What Is It?
A CORRECTION AND EXPLANATION.
Not a few of our brethren represent me as teaching that we should preach on baptism or communion, when we advocate the presentation and enforcement of some one of our distinctive denominational principles or doctrine in every sermon—i.e., to make this as a general rule. I do not hold that baptism and communion are the Alpha nor the Omega of our religion, though Christianity would not long remain pure were these ordinances perverted, and, therefore, they should have due prominence. I am certain that, in a ministry of thirty-three years, I have not, to my church or the same congregation, preached an entire sermon upon the ordinances oftener than once each year, and no church or congregation can be properly indoctrinated with less instruction than this. But I do mean that some one doctrine or characteristic principle of genuine Christianity, in contradistinction to the prevailing counterfeits of it, should find a place, and be emphasized in each sermon; and thus, without unnecessarily awakening sectarian prejudices, popular errors can be corrected, and our distinctive principles—all of which I believe to be scriptural principles—will be most effectually inculcated, and the church and congregation will be gradually and almost insensibly indoctrinated. I can not better explain what I mean than by illustration:
Suppose you were preaching upon the duty and importance of searching the Scriptures. Ask what is the first duty that God enjoins upon His creatures, and suggest: Is it repentance? is it faith? is it obedience? It can not be. It is to learn who He is; it is to learn how just His claims are upon us; it is to learn what He desires us to do, and how He wishes us to do it—in one word, it is to "search the Scriptures." Say it can not be that God requires any thing of us until we are able to search His Word and know what He would have us to do. It does not read—apply to your parents, or to preachers, or to priests to learn what duty God enjoins upon you. but the command is to you personally, "Search the Scriptures,"—each one of you for yourselves—and learn what the will of God is; and, having learned it for yourself, you must obey it for yourself, moved by love for Him.
In this connection the pernicious doctrine of .the Papists can be corrected, viz., that the common people may not freely read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves. The highest duty Christ enjoins upon each individual is to search the Scriptures for himself, and obey its teachings. And no one may presume to do any religious act until he has himself found it required at his hands by searching the Word of God, etc. How natural it would be to ask, in this connection, if it is not the sin of this age, that we seek to learn what distinguished preachers and popular churches, or our parents or friends believe or think we should do, rather than to "Search the Scriptures," and do only what God requires? This one idea, pointed and driven home, will abide forever in the mind, and prove a most effectual blow to infant baptism. If you would strike at human creeds, formulated by human societies, and required to be consulted and held, irrespective of what the Scriptures teach, quote and enforce that inspired declaration: "God hath magnified his word above every name"—i.e., authority. What God wills or wishes concerning us lie has placed in His Word; and when we turn away from it, to seek in creeds, disciplines, confessions, for man’s requirements, we reject God for man: "In vain do they worship me who teach for doctrine the commandments of men."
Supposing you were urging the duty of repentance, you can say it is not doing penance, or having it done for you by a priest— as the Catholics falsely teach, and everywhere translate it in their version—but a personal act, that, like every other duty of Christianity, each one must do for himself. Explain the act, and then urge and emphasize that in every case it must precede baptism, because an essential qualification for baptism. Baptism is said to belong to repentance—"the baptism of repentance"—because repentance must exist before baptism, so that baptism can be, as it was appointed to be, an expression or profession of repentance previously exercised. So that other expression that ritualists and baptismal regenerationists make so much use of—"the washing of regeneration." Grant what they claim, that it refers to baptism, then regeneration of heart must necessarily precede the washing" or baptism, since the washing belongs to it, and is a profession of it. By the pressing of these two points, infant baptism and baptismal regeneration can be effectually crushed.
If you are urging the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, you can emphasize the fact that it is not the mere assent of the intellect, as is widely taught, nor accepting the testimony of the evangelists concerning Christ, as we do those of Irving concerning Washington, but it is gladly receiving the Word, because the message is pleasing to us; relief from our lost and helpless condition is offered to us in Christ, and we rejoice to accept Him in the character He is offered to us—the Savior of guilty and lost sinners—and we trust our whole salvation in His hands. Here you can show how repentance does and must, in the plan of salvation, precede saving faith, which is the sinner’s trust in Christ; since Christ only offers Himself to penitent, not self-righteous, sinners. Not until a person has seen and felt himself a guilty and lost sinner, and sorrows for sin after a godly sort, does Christ say "Come unto me." Only penitent, weary heavy-laden sinners does Christ invite to come. Repentance and faith are everywhere commanded and required as qualifications for baptism, and they, like every duty enjoined by Christianity, are personal. As no one, parent or priest, can repent for you or believe on Christ for you; so no one can perform the duty of baptism for you—i.e., without your own choice and volition, or before you have personally repented towards God and exercised faith in Christ.
Campbellism, and infant baptism, and ritualism all go down under this stroke. Dare to find places, often to say with an impressive boldness, that the one of the infallible tests by which genuine Christianity can be distinguished from some counterfeits, is its intense individuality—that it knows no proxies, no sponsors, no attorney-ship—each and every duty required is a personal duty, an act of personal obedience, which parents nor priests can obey for us. Now the axe is laid at the roots of the trees, and every tree stands or falls upon the basis of its own individual, personal obedience.
If you are preaching the grace of God as the ground of salvation, can you not find a place to show that it is a sure ground? Because not our works, but faith in Christ alone that introduces and keeps us in this grace, therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace, so that the promise of salvation "might be sure to all the seed." If there was the least contingency affecting our salvation, it could not be sure to us. Therefore the apostle says: "By grace are ye saved, through faith," and that any admixture of works—any overt act, as baptism—would destroy grace as the sole groundwork of salvation; for if it is of grace it is no more works, or grace is no more grace; and if of works in the least, then is not our salvation of grace at all, else works are no more works; it must rest either upon all grace or upon all works. If it is of grace alone, then must our salvation be sure, because the lack of works will not affect it.
Were you reading the passage, "By deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight," you could, by way of comment, say there is no definite article in the original, and it should read, by deeds of law—any law, moral, ceremonial, or ecclesiastical—there shall no flesh be justified. Now if baptism is the law of pardon, or a sacrament of salvation, as is so generally taught by Protestants and Campbellites, then this passage is not true; for if by the law of baptism, remission of sins, justification, and the grace of regeneration, are secured, then, by the deed—observance of law—all men can be justified before God!
Should you be preaching upon the passage—and you could, and should often 1)reach upon it—"The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin;" or upon that other precious text —"having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed in pure water, let us hold fast the profession of our faith," etc., could you not clearly and irresistibly show that blood in every case precedes water; that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, leaving no sin for the water to wash away; that the real cleansing of the conscience is by the blood of Christ. while the washing of our bodies can only be the declaration of it, in symbol? Refer back to all the types of sin-cleansing, and the blood is ever first applied, and then the body bathed in water, symbolizing the cleansing. When the heart of Christ, who was the antitype of all the types, was pierced, "forthwith came out blood and water." In all the teachings of God’s Word, where the plan of salvation is referred to or pointed to, even by a type, it is blood before water.
This, then, is the infallible test by which genuine Christianity may be tested and known; it places blood before water; it teaches that we come to the church through Christ, to the water of its baptism through His blood; while all human and counterfeit religions reverse this, and teach that we come to Christ through the church, and to the blood of Christ through the water of baptism. Urge the heater to decide on which side he stands, and which he places first in his creed and practice, water before blood or
Blood Before Water,
and show that this is the grand and distinguishing issue between Baptists and all other denominations; and, so far as the doctrines of salvation are concerned, what makes us Baptists—we put blood before water in every case; while in the creeds and practice of Campbellites and Pedobaptists, water is put before blood—the infant and the sinner are brought first to the water in order to reach the blood that cleanseth from all sin.
These illustrations may serve as a key to my usual manner, whether I read the Scriptures or preach the gospel, to drive here and there a nail in a sure place, and clench it so that it can never be drawn.
Men who are gray now often tell me of distinct and lasting impressions made, by these sharp points, twenty and thirty years ago.