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Thoughts on Baptism

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    CHAPTER XVI. BAPTISM IN THE FIRST CENTURIES

    If the example of the church in the first centuries is of any weight or importance as indicating our duty in regard to baptism, it can only be because they preserved it in purity. For if they did not preserve it pure—if they perverted and corrupted it—then their example should be avoided, and not followed. We shall now give abundant reasons for not only distrusting the acknowledged teachers and leaders of the early centuries, but turning away from them with feelings of pity for their blindness and folly, if, indeed, we are not led to indulge stronger feelings than those of pity.TOB 166.1

    Bingham gives the various titles which were given to baptism, going back as early as Tertullian. It was called “absolution,” for an evident reason; “regeneration of the soul;” “illumination,” because it was supposed to impart a knowledge of divine things to the understanding; “salvation,” because it was supposed to be necessary to salvation and to insure it; “the sign of God,” “character Dominicus,” because the character of the Lord was supposed to be imparted to the subject! “It was a saying that baptism washes away all sins.” It was for this reason that Constantine, for thirteen years after he professed Christianity, refused to be baptized, only requesting it on his death-bed, thus to make sure that his sins might all go together, as if to “compound his felonies” with Heaven! It was considered useful for physical as well as spiritual disorders, as a cure for diseases. Bingham relates that those who had no interest in Christianity themselves used to carry their infants to the bishops for baptism, in order to preserve them from diseases. It is said of Novatus, “From a hope of recovering his health he professed Christianity.” “He was baptized in his bed when apparently about to die.” Such were the views of baptism in the second, third, and fourth centuries.TOB 166.2

    Connected with it, and as necessary to the full performance of baptism as “trine immersion,” was “the renunciation.” And Bingham says, “The antiquity of this renunciation is evidenced from all the writers that have said anything of baptism.” If antiquity gives authority or makes it apostolical, then this ceremony must be accepted! Bingham gives Dionysius as his authority, thus:—TOB 167.1

    “In another place he thus describes the whole ceremony: The priest makes the person to be baptized to stand with his hands stretched out toward the west, and striking them together (the original denotes collision, or striking them together by way of abhorrence); then he bids him thrice exsufflate, or spit, in defiance of Satan; afterwards, thrice repeating the solemn words of renunciation, he bids him thrice renounce him in that form; then he turns him about toward the east, and with his hands and eyes lift up to Heaven, bids him enter into covenant with Christ. Vicecomes thinks this triple renunciation was made, either because there were three things which men renounced in their baptism, the devil, his pomps, and the world; or to signify the three persons of the Trinity; by whom they were adopted as sons upon their renouncing Satan.”—Book 11, chap. 7, § 3 and 5. Section 4 says, “It was accompanied with some other ceremonies.”TOB 167.2

    Then there were the unction, signing with the cross, and the consecration of the water.TOB 168.1

    “The bishop begins the unction by thrice signing him with the sign of the cross, and then commits him to the priests to be anointed all over the body, whilst he goes and consecrates the water in the font.”—Id.TOB 168.2

    ”—The unction of confirmation, which was then usually the conclusion of baptism, both in adult persons and infants; and many of the passages which speak of the sign of the cross in baptism do plainly relate to this as an appendage of baptism, and closely joined to it, as the last ceremony and consummation of it.”—Book 11, chap. 7, § 4.TOB 168.3

    And § 3 says, “The water of baptism was signed with the sign of the cross.”TOB 168.4

    There is no doubt that the ceremony of consecrating and crossing the water had much to do in building up the idea of the wondrous effects of the water of baptism, both physically and spiritually. Thus Chrysostom said:—TOB 168.5

    “They who approach the baptismal font are not only made clean from all wickedness, but holy and also just. Although a man should be foul with every human vice, the blackest that can be named, yet should he fall into the baptismal pool, he ascends from the baptismal waters purer than the beams of noon.” See Coleman, Ancient Chris. Exemplified, pp. 368, 369.TOB 169.1

    There was a regenerating and saving power ascribed to the consecrated waters. Neander says:—TOB 169.2

    “Chrysostom specifies ten different effects of grace wrought in baptism; and then he complains of those who make the grace of baptism consist simply in the forgiveness of sin.”—Vol. 2, p. 665.TOB 169.3

    This superstition of consecrating and crossing the water, dates as early as the age of Tertullian. Of its efficacy he thus speaks:—TOB 169.4

    “All waters, therefore, in virtue of the pristine privilege of their origin, do, after invocation of God, attain the sacramental power of sanctification; for the Spirit immediately supervenes from the heavens, and rests over the waters, sanctifying them from himself; and being thus sanctified, they imbibe at the same time the power of sanctifying.”—Tertullian on Baptism, chap. 6.TOB 169.5

    This mass of nonsensical mockery is traced to the second century, almost to the very time of the apostles!TOB 169.6

    Tertullian mentions, also, sponsors in baptism and penance for sins after baptism. He is the first writer who mentions them, and also some other errors; but his mention proves that such customs existed in Africa in his day.TOB 169.7

    We have said that Tertullian first mentions sprinkling for baptism, and quoted from him wherein he relates that the candidate was both immersed and sprinkled.TOB 170.1

    There seems to be no doubt that sprinkling was first introduced, with many other things herein related, as an addition to baptism, and not altogether as a substitute for it. This is confirmed by the ritual of the Armenians which required that the candidate be both sprinkled and immersed. But such additions or appendages soon supplant the original, as man, in the pride of his heart, ever tries to introduce his own institutions as an improvement of the Lord’s plan. The following words of Tertullian do clearly show that, in his day, sprinkling was considered sufficient to fulfill the act of baptism. They are concerning a controversy as to whether the apostles were baptized by other than John’s baptism. He says:—TOB 170.2

    “Others make the suggestion—forced enough, clearly—‘that the apostles then served the turn of baptism when, in their little ship, they were sprinkled and covered with the waves; that Peter himself also was immersed enough when he walked on the sea.’ It is, however, as I think, one thing to be sprinkled or intercepted by the violence of the sea; another thing to be baptized in obedience to the discipline of religion.... Now whether they were baptized in any manner whatever, or whether they continued unbathed to the end,” etc.—Tertullian on Baptism, chap. 2.TOB 170.3

    Reading these remarks, we must bear in mind that Tertullian does not speak against sprinkling itself, but against the occasion referred to, as not being in “the discipline of religion.” For he elsewhere shows that sprinkling was then practiced in baptism, and his words, “baptized in any manner whatever,” show that one particular manner was not then deemed essential.TOB 171.1

    Also in his book on Repentance, chap. 6, urging a genuine repentance, he says:—TOB 171.2

    “For who will giant to you, a man of so faithless repentance, one single sprinkling of any water whatever?”TOB 171.3

    The prevalence of infant baptism at this early day cannot be fairly questioned. The historical evidence on this point is very full and explicit. Tertullian himself did not favor the baptism of infants, not because he did not regard the ordinance in the same light in which it was regarded by others, but he held the same view which afterward influenced Constantine. However, where death was to be apprehended, he thought they ought to be baptized. Bingham draws a just conclusion from Tertullian’s opposition to it, thus:—TOB 171.4

    “Of his own private opinion he was for deferring the baptism of infants, especially where there was no danger of death, till they came to years of discretion; but he so argued for this, as to show us that the practice of the church was otherwise.”—Book 11, chap. 4, § 10.TOB 171.5

    We should not overlook this important fact, right here, that, though the words of Tertullian prove the practice of infant baptism, they equally prove that he did not consider it of authority higher than tradition. Had he believed that it was in accordance with a Scripture commandment, he certainly would not have argued against it.TOB 171.6

    We think there is no room to doubt that “the practice of the church” in the second century, especially in Africa, the home of Tertullian, was to baptize infants.TOB 172.1

    Cyprian argues in its behalf thus, in his letter to Titus:—TOB 172.2

    “Who comes for that reason more easily to receive forgiveness of sins, because they are not his own but other men’s sins, that are forgiven him.”—Id., § 12.TOB 172.3

    This unscriptural idea, well worthy of the darkness and superstition of the age in which it originated, is held to this very day by Protestant churches which practice infant baptism.TOB 172.4

    Origen also uses this custom as an argument for the sinfulness of infants! A stronger evidence that the custom prevailed could not be required. Bingham quotes Origen’s views on this point, and remarks as follows:—TOB 172.5

    ” ‘It may be inquired, What is the reason why the baptism of the church, which is given for the remission of sins, is, by the custom of the church, given to infants also? Whereas if there were nothing in infants that wanted remission and indulgence, the grace of baptism might seem needless to them.... Infants are baptized for the forgiveness of sins.’ ... He affirms, that the church received the order of baptizing infants from the apostles.”—Book 11, chap. 4, § 11.TOB 172.6

    Cyprian and his colleagues in council decided that infants might be baptized as soon as born, lest they should die without baptism. Cyprian’s own words in defense of this are these:—TOB 173.1

    “As far as we can, we must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost.”—Cyprian, vol. 1, p. 198.TOB 173.2

    This shows that it was the belief in that early age that unbaptized infants were lost. And all this they professed to derive from the teachings of Christ and his apostles!TOB 173.3

    With infant baptism came infant communion. The Greek Church, that pattern of Christian faith and practice in the eyes of trine immersionists, yet retains both these rites handed down from early fathers. St. Augustine, and others whose evidence is relied upon to prove the validity of three immersions, advocated infant communion. Dr. Schaff calls it “the incongruous system of infant communion, which seemed to follow from infant baptism.” It naturally followed infant baptism, and accompanied it in the practice of the whole church for about six hundred or seven hundred years. By the whole church, we mean all embraced in the communion of Rome. But it is no more incongruous, no more unscriptural, than infant baptism. And this was ancient as well as general. Quoting from Cyprian, Bingham says:—TOB 173.4

    “Here we may observe that children were made partakers of the eucharist (which Cyprian calls the meat and drink of the Lord); and this is evident from other passages of the same author; which is a further evidence for the practice of infant baptism; for it is certain that none but baptized persons were allowed to partake of the eucharist at the Lord’s table.”—Antiquities, book 11, chap. 4, § 12.TOB 173.5

    Dr. Schaff seems to think it had the strongest hold among the North African churches. It is highly probable that it took its earliest hold there; but the evidence clearly shows that it became as general as infant baptism or three immersions, or three aspersions; for it is true that three sprinklings or three pourings were admitted, as well as three immersions.TOB 174.1

    The reader will readily agree with us that this is enough on this subject. The early church, even in the second century, did not retain baptism in the purity of the gospel. They connected with it an almost inconceivable number of rites, some of them of the most ridiculous form and nature. Therefore it is beyond all question true that we do not safely appeal to them for the true practice—the gospel form, and apostolic practice—of baptism.TOB 174.2

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