A Good Confession
I REMEMBER the difficulty that I had, when I was converted, and wished to join the Christian Church in Newmarket. I called upon the minister four successive days before I could see him; each time there was some obstacle in the way of an interview; and as I could not see him, I wrote and told him that I would go down to the church-meeting, and propose myself as a member. He looked upon me as a strange character, but I meant what I said, for I felt that I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God. I wanted to be wherever they were, and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them, and if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name, for I felt that, unless I suffered with Christ in His humiliation, I could not expect to reign with Him in His glory.
When I had been accepted as a member of the Congregational Church at Newmarket, I was invited to the communion table, although I had not been baptized. I refused, because it did not appear to me to be according to the New Testament order: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." I waited until I could go to the Lord's table as one who had believed, and who had been baptized. I had attended the house of God with my father, and my grandfather, but I thought, when I read the Scriptures, that it was my business to judge for myself. I knew that my father and my grandfather took little children in their arms, put a few drops of water on their faces, and said they were baptized; but I could not see anything in my Bible about babes being baptized. I learned a little Greek, but I could not discover that the word "baptize" meant to sprinkle, so I said to myself, "They are good men, yet they may be wrong; and though I love and revere them, that is no reason why I should imitate them." And they acknowledged, when they knew of my honest conviction, that it was quite right for me to act according to my conscience. I consider the "baptism" of an unconscious infant is just as foolish as the "baptism" of a ship or a bell, for there is as much Scripture for the one as for the other. Therefore I left my relations, and became what I am today, a Baptist, so-called, but I hope a great deal more a Christian than a Baptist. Many a man will go to chapel, because his grandmother did. Well, she was a good old soul, but I do not see that she ought to influence your judgment. "That does not signify," says one, "I do not like to leave the church of my fathers." No more do I, for I would rather belong to the same denomination as my father, I would not willfully differ from any of my friends, or leave their sect and denomination, but I must let God be above my parents. Though our parents are at the very top of our hearts, and we love them, and reverence them, and in all other matters render them strict obedience, yet, with regard to religion, to our own Master we stand or fall, and we claim to have the right of judging for ourselves as men, and then we think it our duty, having judged, to carry out our conscientious convictions.
I once met a man who had been forty years a Christian, and believed it to be his duty to be baptized, but when I spoke to him about it, he said, "He that believeth shall not make haste." After forty years' delay, he talked about not making haste. I quoted to him another passage, "I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments," and showed him what the meaning of his misapplied passage was. A person who was present when John Gill preached his very first sermon at Kettering, also heard him deliver his last in London, more than fifty years after. After his death, she joined the church over which he had presided, relating, at some length, a truly interesting experience, which gave universal pleasure to all who heard it. Her name was Mary Bailey, and it is to be hoped that none will imitate her by postponing the confession of their faith in Jesus for so long a time. She lived half a century in disobedience to her Lord, and even when she avowed His name it must have caused her deep regret that she had lingered so long in neglect of the Redeemer's ordinance.
When I was a boy of fifteen, I believed in the Lord Jesus, was baptized, and joined the Church of Christ, and nothing upon earth would please me more than to hear of other boys having been led to do the same. I have never been sorry for what I did then; no, not even once. I have had plenty of time to think it over, and many temptations to try some other course, and if I had found out that I had been deceived, or that I had blundered, I would have made a change before now, and would do my best to prevent others from falling into the same delusion. The day I gave myself up to the Lord Jesus, to be His servant, was the very best day of my life; then I began to be safe and to be happy; then I found out the secret of living, and had a worthy object for my life's exertions, and an unfailing comfort for life's troubles. Because I would wish every boy, who reads these lines, to have a bright eye, a light tread, a joyful heart, and overflowing spirits, I therefore plead with him to consider whether he will not follow my example, for I speak from experience, and know what I say.
Baptism is the mark of distinction between the Church and the world. It very beautifully sets forth the death of the baptized person to the world. Professedly, he is no longer of the world; he is buried to it, and he rises again to a new life. No symbol could be more significant. In the immersion of a believer, there seems to me to be a wondrous setting forth of the burial of the Christian to all the world in the burial of Christ Jesus. It is the crossing of the Rubicon. If Caesar crosses the Rubicon, there will never be peace between him and the Senate again. He draws his sword, and he throws away his scabbard. Such is the act of baptism to the believer. It is the burning of the boats: it is as much as to say, "I cannot come back again to you, I am dead to you; and to prove that I am, I am absolutely buried to you, I have nothing more to do with the world; I am Christ's, and Christ's for ever." Then, the Lord's supper: how beautifully that ordinance sets forth the distinction of the believer from the world in his life and that by which his life is nourished. He eats the flesh of Christ, and drinks His blood. Both these ordinances bring a cross with them to some degree, especially the first. I was noting, when reading the life of good Andrew Fuller, that, after he had been baptized, some of the young men in the village were wont to mock him, asking him how he liked being dipped, and such like questions which are common enough nowadays. I could but notice that the scoff of a hundred years ago is just the scoff of today.
This is the way of salvation--worship, prayer, faith, profession--and the profession, if men would be obedient, if they would follow the Bible, must be done in Christ's way, by a baptism in water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. God requireth this, and though men are saved without any baptism, and multitudes fly to Heaven who are never plunged in the stream; though baptism is not saving, yet, if men would be saved, they must not be disobedient. And inasmuch as God gives the command, it is mine to enforce it. Jesus said to His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth, and is immersed, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned." The Church of England Prayer-book approves dipping. It only says, if children be weak, they are to be sprinkled, and it is marvellous how many weakly children there have been born lately. The dear little ones are so tender, that a few drops suffice instead of the dipping which their own Church endorses. I would that all churchmen were better churchmen; if they would be more consistent with their own articles of faith, they would be more consistent with Scripture; and if they were a little more consistent with some of the rubrics of their own Church, they would be a little more consistent with themselves. I became a Baptist through reading the New Testament--especially in the Greek--and was strengthened in my resolve by a perusal of the Church of England Catechism, which declared as necessary to baptism, repentance and the forsaking of sin.
Doddridge has recommended a solemn covenant between the soul and God, to be signed and sealed with due deliberation and most fervent prayer. Many of the most eminent of the saints have adopted this excellent method of devoting themselves in very deed unto the Lord, and have reaped no little benefit from the re-perusal of that solemn document when they have afresh renewed the act of dedication. I conceive that burial with Christ in baptism is a far more Scriptural and expressive sign of dedication, but I am not inclined to deny my brethren the liberty of confirming that act by the other, if it seem good unto them, as I myself did soon after my conversion. According to my reading of Holy Scripture, the believer in Christ should be buried with Him in baptism, and so enter upon his open Christian life. I therefore cast about to find a Baptist minister, and I failed to discover one nearer than Isleham, in the Fen country, where resided a certain Mr. W. W. Cantlow. My parents wished me to follow my own convictions, Mr. Cantlow arranged to baptize me, and my employer gave me a day's holiday for the purpose.
I can never forget May 3, 1850; it was my mother's birthday, and I myself was within a few weeks of being sixteen years of age. I was up early, to have a couple of hours for quiet prayer and dedication to God. Then I had some eight miles to walk, to reach the spot where I was to be immersed into the Triune Name according to the sacred command. What a walk it was! What thoughts and prayers thronged my soul during that morning's journey! It was by no means a warm day, and therefore all the better for the two or three hours of quiet foot-travel which I enjoyed. The sight of Mr. Cantlow's smiling face was a full reward for that country tramp. I think I see the good man now, and the white ashes of the peat-fire, by which we stood and talked together about the solemn exercise which lay before us. We went together to the Ferry, for the Isleham friends had not degenerated to indoor immersion in a bath made by the art of man, but used the ampler baptistery of the flowing river. Isleham Ferry, on the River Lark, is a very quiet spot, half-a-mile from the village, and rarely disturbed by traffic at any time of the year. The river itself is a beautiful stream, dividing Cambridgeshire from Suffolk, and is dear to local anglers. The navigation of this little River Lark is possible between Bury St. Edmunds and the sea at Lynn, but at Isleham it is more in its infancy.
The ferry-house, hidden in the picture (Plate 8) by the trees, is freely opened for the convenience of minister and candidates at a baptizing. Where the barge is hauled up for repairs, the preacher takes his stand, when the baptizing is on a week-day, and there are few spectators present. But on Lord's-day, when great numbers are attracted, the preacher, standing in a barge moored mid-stream, speaks the Word to the crowds on both sides of the river. This can be done the more easily, as the river is not very wide. The bank at the prow of the barge is the usual place for entering the water. The right depth, with sure footing, may soon be found, and so the delightful service proceeds in the gently-flowing stream. No accident or disorder has ever marred the proceedings. In the course of seven or eight miles, the Lark serves no fewer than five Baptist churches, and they would on no account give up baptizing out of doors.
The first baptizing at Isleham is recorded thus: "Sept.13, 1798. John Webber, sen., John Webber, jun., William Brown, John Wibrow, and Mary Gunstone were baptized by Mr. Fuller, of Kettering, at Isleham Ferry."
To me, there seemed to be a great concourse on that week-day. Dressed, I believe, in a jacket, with a boy's turn-down collar, I attended the service previous to the ordinance, but all remembrance of it has gone from me: my thoughts were in the water, sometimes with my Lord in joy, and sometimes with myself in trembling awe at making so public a confession. There were first to be baptized two women--Diana Wilkinson and Eunice Fuller--and I was asked to conduct them through the water to the minister, but this I most timidly declined. It was a new experience to me, never having seen a baptism before, and I was afraid of making some mistake. The wind blew down the river with a cutting blast, as my turn came to wade into the flood, but after I had walked a few steps, and noted the people on the ferry-boat, and in boats, and on either shore, I felt as if, heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me, for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb. My timidity was washed away; it floated down the river into the sea, and must have been devoured by the fishes, for I have never felt anything of the kind since. Baptism also loosed my tongue, and from that day it has never been quiet. I lost a thousand fears in that River Lark, and found that "in keeping His commandments there is great reward". It was a thrice-happy day to me. God be praised for the preserving goodness which allows me to write of it with delight so long afterwards!
In the Isleham Vestry, in the extremely gentle and cordial companionship of the pastor, I spent a very happy evening, which I recollect was very cold, so that a peat-fire, whose white appearance I still remember, was needed to warm the room. Cantlow was for some time a missionary in Jamaica, and is mentioned three times in Hinton's Life of Knibb. For thirty-two years this excellent man resided at Isleham, and was pastor of the church till age enfeebled him, and he welcomed our worthy student, Mr. Wilson, as his successor. He was great at giving the "soft answer which turneth away wrath"; he was beloved by his people, and universally respected in the village. His death serves as a landmark in my life, reminding me that the days are long past since I was generally spoken of as "the boy-preacher".
Stevenson, in The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, his Life and Work makes it out that I joined the Baptist Church a year before I was baptized, but it was not so. I never dreamed of entering the Church except by Christ's own way, and I wish that all other believers were led to make a serious point of commencing their visible connection with the Church by the ordinance which symbolizes death to the world, burial with Christ, and resurrection to newness of life. That open stream, the crowded banks and the solemn plunge, have never faded from my mind, but have often operated as a spur to duty, and a seal of consecration. From henceforth let no man trouble me, for He who first saved me, afterwards accepted me--spirit, soul, and body--as His servant, in token where of this mortal frame was immersed beneath the wave. The outward sign has often served to bring vividly before mind and heart the spiritual meaning, and therefore is it dearly loved, for His sake who both ordained the ordinance and Himself submitted to it.
Mr. Wilson also explains the picture, and adds an amusing story: "In the view of the Ferry, the chaise and cart are waiting to cross the river by the ferry-boat. One old lighter is rotting away in the water, and another lies high and dry under repair. The box is for keeping eels until they can be sent to market, and there is also a small boat to be seen if you look closely. The late vicar of Isleham, a very solemn man, meeting a deacon of ready wit at the Ferry, began to find fault with a recent baptizing there. Said the vicar, 'I suppose this is the place where the people came crowding, the other Sunday, showing the little respect they had for the Sabbath-day.' 'There was, indeed, a great crowd,' replied the deacon, 'but they were all as still and attentive as in the house of God.' 'Is it true that the man, J. S---, was baptized?' enquired the vicar. 'Yes, quite true', said the deacon, 'and he seemed to be full of joy at the time.' 'What!' exclaimed the vicar, 'a man who never went to school, and cannot read a word! How much can he know about the religion he came here to profess?' 'Well,' answered the deacon, with a smile, 'very likely the poor man knows little as yet; still, he told us how he found the Saviour, and became happy in His love. But,' added the deacon, 'do not you, sir, christen little children, declaring that you make them children of God, while you are perfectly aware that the children know nothing at all?'".
If any ask, Why was I thus baptized?--I answer, because I believed it to be an ordinance of Christ, very specially joined by Him with faith in His name. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." I had no superstitious idea that baptism would save me, for I was saved. I did not seek to have sin washed away by water, for I believed that my sins were forgiven me through faith in Christ Jesus. Yet I regarded baptism as the token to the believer of cleansing, the emblem of his burial with his Lord, and the outward avowal of his new birth. I did not trust in it; but, because I trusted in Jesus as my Saviour, I felt bound to obey Him as my Lord, and follow the example which He set us in Jordan, in His own baptism. I did not fulfil the outward ordinance to join a party, and to become a Baptist, but to be a Christian after the apostolic fashion, for they, when they believed, were baptized. It is now questioned whether John Bunyan was baptized; but the same question can never be raised concerning me. I, who scarcely belong to any sect, am, nevertheless, by no means willing to have it doubted in time to come whether or no I followed the conviction of my heart. I read the New Testament for myself, and found believers' baptism there, and I had no mind to neglect what I saw to be the Lord's order. If others see not as I do; to their own Master they stand or fall, but for me, the perceptions of my understanding in spiritual things were the law of my life, and I hope they will always be so.
If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right. The particular doctrine adhered to by Baptists is that they acknowledge no authority unless it comes from the Word of God. They attach no importance to the authority of the Fathers--they care not for the authority of the mothers--if what they say does not agree with the teaching of the Evangelists, Apostles, and Prophets, and, most of all, with the teaching of the Lord Himself. If we could find infant baptism in the Word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us--that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.
Our forefathers were called Ana-baptists, because it was said by their opponents that they re-baptized those who had been already baptized. Of course, they did nothing of the kind; they immersed, on profession of their faith, those who had previously been sprinkled as unconscious infants. There was no ana-baptism or re-baptism there, the two things were altogether distinct. I could tell a good many stories of that kind of ana-baptism. There was one of the elders of the Tabernacle Church who was--as the word is usually understood--"baptized" four times. The first time the babe was sprinkled, he was so ill that he was only half-done, according to the ritual provided for that purpose in the Prayer-book. When he got better, he was taken to the church to be properly finished off, but the parson gave the child a girl's name instead of the one which had been selected for him. His father and mother did not like their boy running the risk of being called by the name that had been given to him, so they took him for the third time, and the clergyman then gave him his right name. When he grew up, he was converted, and I baptized him after the Scriptural order; but the Church of England had made three attempts to baptize him, and had failed every time!