PUBLIC DISPUTATIONS ON BAPTISM.
Baptists have been compelled to be controversialists. Their position, among all the varieties of Christian belief, is solitary and peculiar; and on them, therefore, is rightly thrown the burden of proof. Nor have they ever shown any reluctance to accept the responsibilities of their position. But in the Seventeenth Century, when they started afresh into such prominence in England, there were many other reasons than their isolated position for taking up the weapons of controversy they were misunderstood, misrepresented, defamed; the most frivolous and the most scandalous charges were made against them from the pulpit and the press; they were literally "the sect everywhere spoken against." Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Brownists, Independents, much as they might differ from each other, all agreed amazingly in this--their denunciation of the Baptists.
Various methods were adopted for removing this general dislike, and answering the wicked accusations made against them. They issued pamphlets in defence of their opinions. They subscribed to numerous Confessions of Faith. They were ready, in season and out of season, to meet their opponents. They challenged them to public disputations; now in London, now in the country. Ordinary buildings proved too small and inconvenient for the excited and eager crowds who attended these disputations; and the largest accommodation being afforded by the parish church, to the parish church they commonly hurried. The occasion of these discussions was often the fierce opposition of local clergymen, but was sometimes the uneasy consciences on the subject of baptism of some members of their congregations. The victory, as in all such public discussions, was usually claimed by both sides. The disputatious themselves illustrate the habits and the ferment of a former age.
It is unfortunate that most of the reports of these public debates are from the pens of opponents. There were no newspaper reporters in those days; but some friend of the disputants dotted down a few rough notes during the debate, which were afterwards filled up from memory. Large room was, therefore, left for partiality and unfairness. In some cases the opponents of the Baptists not only published these one-sided versions of the debates, but enriched or disfigured them by marginal commentaries; one of them thought to secure wider success for his cause by publishing, with his report, a scandalous frontispiece in which fifteen different sorts of Anabaptists are supposed to be depicted.
The history of all the public disputes between the Baptists and their opponents, from the outbreak of the Civil War to the Restoration of Charles the Second, would alone fill a bulky volume. But these only represent a tithe of the discussions which have been held. An account of some of the most famous debates will illustrate the rest. Perhaps the most notorious was one of the earliest. This dispute was held with
Dr. Daniel Featley, in Southwark.
The only account of it which has come down to us is supplied by the doctor's own book, entitled, The Dippers dipt: or, the Anabaptists duck'd and plung'd over head and ears, at a Disputation in Southwark. Together with a large and full Discourse of their original, several sorts, peculiar errors, high attempts against the State, capitail punishments, with an application to these times. London 1645.
The scene of the dispute was "somewhere in Southwark;" but where, does not appear. Most probably, however, it was in the parish church. Sir John Lenthall was present, "with many knights, ladies, and gentlemen." There were also not a few of the illiterate people on whom Dr. Featley looked down with such bitter disdain, people who were then being stirred into great excitement by other matters besides those in dispute. The discussion was held in the year that Charles the First had broken with his Parliament. Two months before it began the royal standard was unfurled at Nottingham, and a week after it had closed Charles fought his first battle.
The disputants can hardly be regarded as fairly matched. Featley was already a veteran debater. He was now sixty-two; and had long before won his spurs in various encounters with the Jesuits in Paris, when chaplain to the English ambassador. The wily followers of Ignatius Loyola, so Dr. Featley's most intimate friend assures us, "contemned him for that he was low of stature, yet admired him for his ready answers and shrewd distinctions." During his residence in the French capital he had not only converted "a Spanish Frier," but had earned for himself a great reputation as a polemic. Featley's name was to be found on the tables hung up in Continental seminaries, and was bracketed with the great schoolmen Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, Aquinas, and others. If the first was styled "the Seraphic," the second "the Subtle," and the third "the Angelic," Featley was known as "the Sagacious and Ardent." It is also cheering to know that, despite his vilification of the Baptists, his friend of "thirty seven years' duration," had found him "meek, gracious, affable, merciful."
The opponents of Featley were four Baptists, one of whom the Doctor calls "a Scotchman," and the other "Cuffin." It is hardly necessary to say that the last was William Kiffin, who had now been for two years pastor of Devonshire-square chapel, London. Of the other disputants we have no information. Kiffin was a vigorous young man of six-and-thirty, who had yet fifty-nine years of pastoral and chequered life before him.
"The company being placed, Dr. Featley made a short ejaculatory prayer to God to give a blessing to the meeting." The Scotchman opened the debate. "Master Doctor" (perhaps he did not know he was "acutissimus acerrimusque," or he would have given him his full honours)--"Master Doctor; we come to dispute with you at this time, not for contention's sake, but to receive satisfaction. We hold, that the baptism of infants cannot be proved lawful by the testimony of Scripture, or by Apostolical tradition. If you, therefore, can prove the same either way, we shall willingly submit unto you." The doctor feigns surprise at this simple question. "Are you, then, Anabaptists? I am deceived in my expectations. I thought the end of this meeting had been to have reasoned with you about other matters, and that my task would have been to have justified our Communion Book, and the lawfulness and necessity of coming to church, which I am ready to do. Anabaptism, (which I perceive is the point you hold,) is a heresy long since condemned both by the Greek and Latin Church." After this declaration the "sagacious and ardent" polemic insults his opponents before he has tried their calibre, by adding, "I could have wished also that ye had brought scholars with you, who knew how to dispute, which I conceive you do not, so far as I can guess by your habit [dress], and am informed concerning your professions. For there are but two ways of disputing: by authority, and by reason." If they elect the first method, the doctor tells them that they must be prepared to produce the Scriptures in the original languages; since "translations are not authentical," because they contain errors, and "in the undoubted Word of God there can be no error." This production of the original Scriptures, he intimates, is out of the question, since none of them understand either Greek or Hebrew. If they elect the second method, they are no better off. He will have them, in that case, "conclude syllogistically, in mood and figure, which," he adds, "I take to be out of your element."
The doctor now expresses his desire,--since they had earnestly sought this meeting, "and are so well conceited of themselves that they take upon them to teach others,"--to put them through their catechism. He begins by asking the Scotchman some questions on the doctrine of the Trinity; and informs us, in his marginal comments on his own answer, "The venturous Scotchman was so stunned with this blow, that he gave in, and spake no more for a good space." The doctor's keen eyes observed, however, "that he wrote something, and gave it to some there present."
Mr. Kiffin now speaks; "declares," says Featley, that "he has not come to dispute, but to receive satisfaction of some doubts, which, if the doctor can answer him, he shall submit." "This Cuffin," adds the marginal note, "is said to be one of the first that subscribed to the Anabaptist Confession, printed in 1644." But neither Kiffin's answers nor the Scotchman's please Sir John Lenthall, who breaks in upon the discussion to "bid the doctor resolve the doubts himself;" when Featley avows that his sole purpose in putting his questions was, "to make it appear to the auditors how unfit these men were to take upon them the office of teacher," since they were "so imperfect in the fundamental points of Catechism."
Kiffin, taking advantage of the doctor's invitation, "to propound what question he pleased," asks--"What is the nature of a visible Church?--what, the matter and form of it?--or what the visible Church of Christ made up of, by authority of the Scripture?" evidently seeking to bring the debate back again to its original purpose. The doctor replies, "The Protestant Church has but two ‘notes,' and both are found in the Church of England, namely, (1) the sincere preaching of the Word, and (2) the due administration of the Sacraments." Kiffin contends that neither of these are discernible, and denies that the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer are agreeable to God's Word. Featley even makes him say, that he (Kiffin) had "never seen the Thirty-nine Articles, and knew not what they were!"--a statement as incredible as it is audacious.
Again the volatile doctor is brought back to the chief point of the debate, "whether baptism can be rightly administered, agreeable to God's Word, if given to children;" but while he was on the point of proving it, "out of Scripture," "another Anabaptist interposed with a question, whether the Church of England was a true Church, since she compelled men to come to her, and persecuted those who refused to come." Featley quotes the example of King Josiah to prove that kings ought to "compel their subjects in matters religious," and "so blankt this third Anabaptist, that, to save his credit, he started up another question," to which the doctor replied syllogistically, and was instantly answered by "the blankt Anabaptist:" "But the Word of God does not command us to come to your steeple-houses, and the King hath nothing to do to command us in this kind." Again Featley answers by a syllogism: "The King hath power to command you in all things that are lawful; it is lawful, and noways repugnant to God's Word, but most agreeable thereunto, to come to our steeple-houses, as you call them; therefore, the King hath power to command you to come to our Church." The Baptist declares he (the doctor) makes an idol of the church; but assures him that if "one of our society should preach in Olaves, or Mary Overis Church, he (the Baptist) would hear him."
This is construed by Featley into "the Anabaptist yielding his buckler, namely, that the magistrate ought to be obeyed, when he commanded men to hear God's Word in the church!"
The debate now wanders off to the question--whether the Baptists or the Church of England have true pastors?--Featley contending that since the Anabaptists have no sending, no calling, no imposition of hands upon them, they had not lawful pastors; and one of the Baptists declaring that, "none among us teach but they have ordination, for they are elected, examined, and proved;" but if the doctor wishes to know whether they have imposition of hands, "if he will come to his (the Baptist's) church, he will see for himself."
Kiffin grows impatient at the frequent digressions of Featley, and says, "I pray you, Master Doctor, come to the point; how prove you the baptism of children to be lawful by the Word of God?" A little more skirmishing on Featley's part follows this distinct and definite question, and at length he affirms that "the Scripture proofs are of two sorts: some probable, some necessary." The "probable" are, the baptisms of households; and the "necessary," circumcision and the declaration, that except men are born of the water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Kiffin reminds the doctor that "men" are here spoken of; not children; and the Scotchman suggests, that, according to Featley's showing, only children baptized are saved. Featley accepts both conclusions, but says, in regard to Kiffin's objection, "that in Christ there is no difference of age or sex," and in answer to the Scotchman's, "that the children of the faithful are holy" (1 Cor. vii. 14), and therefore they enter heaven. The last reply did not satisfy one of the Baptists, and he instantly put, in, "But the Apostle meaneth, that such are not bastards, at which," says Featley, "the company laughing, as a ridiculous answer."
Another opponent now appears, an Anabaptist who has caught the doctor's trick of syllogizing, and who boldly denies that either Featley, or others like him, ought to preach. "They that persecute good men are ungodly men," says this fourth disputant; "but all your bishops persecute good men; therefore, the bishops are ungodly men." The doctor claims that at least two bishops did not deserve that censure, the primate of Ireland, and Bishop of Potter; but the Baptist declares, that when he himself was dragged before the High Commission, the Irish primate "sate there, and by his silence gave consent." Featley wriggled out of this home thrust by saying, "that the Archbishop of Armagh had no power to give sentence in the High Commission of England, and if he (the doctor) truly knew for what cause the Anabaptist had been brought up before the High Commission, he had no doubt he should be able to prove that the sentence was just, "since you are one of those who do not come to church, and will not hear our preachers, but only some of your own sect, and those no better than mere laymen."
The debate here turns upon the question of lay preaching, the Baptist contending that the division of people into laymen and clergymen is Popish; that the seven deacons of the church at Jerusalem all preached, and yet they were all what the Popish Church called laymen. To this Featley replies, that neither the word "Trinity, sacrament, nor other like terms," were in the Scriptures, "yet the sense of them is there," and so is the distinction of clergy and laity; that the law was to be learnt from the priest's mouth;" and that his own priesthood, and that of his brethren, was the same in substance, "but not for ceremony and manner of worship;" and as for the deacons of the church at Jerusalem, "they were all men upon whom the Apostles had laid their hands." "Prove," said he, triumphantly, "prove that any preached who had not imposition of hands." To this Kiffin replied by quoting the passage in the Acts of the Apostles which describes how they that were scattered abroad went everywhere, preaching the word," and preaching, not without great effect; and that Peter had also declared (1 Pet. iv. 10), " as every man hath received the spirit, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Kiffin adds to this reply, "If God have given us a talent, it is our duty to improve it."
Featley rejoins, that all the men scattered abroad, were such as the Apostles had laid hands on;" and that Peter's words refer not to public teaching and preaching, but to private admonition, "such as every godly master of a family useth in his house, instructing his children and his servants the best that he can." But he concludes the point in dispute by ending with this remark: "It is true, in time of persecution, we read of one Frumentius, a layman, who, in his travels converted some to the Christian faith, confirming the truth of the Christian religion by the Scriptures." "That," said Kiffin, "is all we desire to do." But Featley was "sagacious," if he were also "ardent;" and he therefore instantly replies, that "that was no preaching publicly by virtue of a pastoral function or expounding Scripture." It is hard to see what else it was; and the fact that the bishops afterwards sent ministers to reap the fruit of the labours of Framentius, or, as Featley expresses it, "to accomplish that work which he had so happily begun," does not alter the character of his preaching.
Further discussion follows on the question of public and private worship, and the value of the Geneva version or the King's translation, during which Featley states two reasons against lay preaching:--(1) "None ought to take upon them the office of pastor, or minister of the Word, who are not able to reprove and convince heretics and all gainsayers, a thing that lay preachers are unable to do from their ignorance of the original Scriptures; and (2) Since the office of a minister is a holy office, none may meddle with it but those that have a lawful calling thereunto," the last point being supported by the judgments upon Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, upon Uzzah, Uzziah, and the husbandmen and herdsmen whom the Prophet Zechariah reproved. "So you artificers may be ashamed of your prophesying, and say, ‘I am a tradesman; I am no prophet; men taught me to exercise a handicraft from my youth.'"
It is now Kiffin's turn to speak, since this last arrow was levelled at him. "Being angry at this," says Featley, he said, "Master Doctor, I am more lawfully called to preach the Word than you, and that I will prove by Scripture." To which Featley, with equal ill-temper, rejoined, "You will have a hard task of it, for neither my name nor yours are found in Scripture, neither is there any colour in all God's Word for any layman's preaching, much less for such an illiterate artificer as you are." Kiffin next charges the bishops with living in known sin, and Featley retorts by referring to a scandal which had recently occasioned trouble in the Devonshire-square church, and appealing to Kiffin whether he was not himself in the habit of asking God's forgiveness for sins of conscience and ignorance, or whether he had not idle thoughts of earthly lusts and desires? Of course Kiffln, as an honest man, confessed that he had; but contended that that was not approving of known sin. Featley asserts that "the learned, grave, and religious bishop," by whom he himself had been ordained, "died without spot or stain"; and thinking of him he was prompted to say to Kiffin, "I cannot sufficiently admire [wonder at] your boldness;" to which Kiffin replied, that "whosoever the bishop was, he was but a particular man; and Christ gave the power of ordaining to His Church, not to any particular man." The doctor answers, that after all, "some particular men ought to execute this power of ordination."
"Here," says the marginal note, "it grew late, and the Conference broke off." But, adds Featley, "the issue of the Conference was," (mark the self-complacency of the doctor), "first, the Knights, ladies and gentlemen gave the doctor great thanks," [privately, of course]; "secondly, three of the Anabaptists went away discontented, the fourth seemed in part satisfied, and desired a second meeting; but the next day, conferring with the rest of that sect, he altered his resolution, and neither he, nor any other of that sect ever since that day troubled the doctor, or any other minister in this borough with a second challenge."
On reviewing the doctor's own version of the debate, it is difficult to see wherein he succeeded in confounding his opponents. The debate itself was not published until two years and a quarter after it was held, when other and more exciting events had well-nigh obliterated all recollection of it from the minds of "the auditors," and when the doctor himself was in custody at Peter-house, London, suspected by the Parliament of being a spy. Shortly after his imprisonment, another victim was brought in, not for being a spy, but for daring to preach against infant baptism. This was Henry Denne. Up to this time Denne had not seen Featley's version of the dispute, nor his further charge against the Baptists in the same book. At once, however, Denne challenged Featley to debate with him the whole question; but after going over the first of the ten arguments in his work, Featley declined all further discussion by word of mouth, on the plea that it was not safe to dispute without a licence from the Parliament. He, nevertheless, agreed to carry on the controversy by writing. Featley issued his savage attack on the Baptists on the 10th of January, 1644, and in little less than a month Denne's reply was ready, under the title of Antichrist Unmasked. Not long after, Samuel Richardson took up the challenge thrown down by "the sagacious and ardent" polemic, and published Some Brief Considerations on Dr. Featley's Book, in which the doctor gets a severe handling. Richardson's reply to the chuckle with which Featley ends his own very one-sided version of the dispute in Southwark is as follows:--"The knights and ladies thanked him, but he cannot say he deserved it. The Anabaptists went away discontented and grieved. It seems they were very sorrowful to see his great blindness and hardness of heart. He saith, none of them ever after that troubled him; it seems they could do him no good, and so they resolved to leave him to God, till He should please to open his eyes."
Featley's great friend and admirer exultingly refers to "all his sermons in a great book in folio," to his "supplement to Sir Humphrey Linde's book;" to his work against Arminius, and all of his rabble;" to his "Sea-Gull, a tract against a gross imposture;" to his "Meditations," and his "Handmaid to Devotions;" but he did not foresee that his bosom friend would hereafter be chiefly remembered for "his book against the Anabaptists," however "seasonable and necessary" he might deem it "for those unsettled and wanton times." "As Elias, being carried up in a fiery chariot, did let fall his mantle from him for Elisha's comfort and behoof; so," says Dr. Leo, in his funeral oration, "our Featley, burning with zeal for God's glory, and for the good of His saints, hath left behind him several tokens of his learning and love to divers friends." [A sermon preached at Lambeth, April 21, 1645, at the funeral of that learned and polemical divine, Daniel Featley, Doctor in Divinity, late preacher there. With a short relation of his life and death. By William Leo, D.D. London, 1645.] The Baptists, however, can neither be reckoned among the number of his "friends," nor can his legacy to them be regarded as a token of His "love."
The year after the Southwark dispute Mr. John Batt and Mr. Thomas Lamb held a public discussion at TARLING, in Essex, with three Pædobaptists, Messrs. Stalham, Newton, and Gray; and Benjamin Cox and Richard Baxter held another at COVENTRY. Cox was the son of a bishop, and for some time minister at Bedford. A number of people in Coventry having embraced Baptist opinions sent for Cox to form them into a distinct society. The Presbyterians took alarm; the pulpits in the old city rang with cries against the Anabaptists; and Baxter, who was then hiding in Coventry, challenged Cox to dispute with him on the subject of baptism, by word of mouth and by writing. Cox accepted the challenge, and worsted his antagonist; but no account of the dispute is preserved except by Baxter. The Committee heard of the discussion, and ordered Cox at once to leave the city and never more to return. On refusing, he was committed to Coventry goal. Baxter was reflected upon at the time for conniving at this hard usage of his opponent, since Baxter was then living as a friend in the Governor's house, had great influence with the Committee, and might have secured his release by a single word. It is, however, only fair to mention that Baxter himself denied the charge of ever urging this arbitrary act; but it is plain enough that Baxter might have prevented the imprisonment altogether, if he had been so minded. He secured his speedy release on being asked to obtain it by Mr. Pinson.
The Presbyterian party being now in power, checked for a time the free discussion on infant baptism, but left unlimited license to abuse the Baptists in the hands of their ministers. One of the most virulent and unscrupulous of these was the man whom Milton styled "The shallow Edwards," author of Gangræna. He lectured in Christ Church, London, on Tuesday mornings, and took occasion in nearly every sermon to speak evil of his Baptist neighbours. On one occasion Kiffin was present, and smarting under the scurrility of the preacher, he sent up to the pulpit the following, moderate and dignified letter, to which he never received any reply
"To Mr. Edwards.
"You stand as one professing yourself to be instructed of Christ, with abilities from God to throw down errors, and therefore to that end do preach every third day (Tuesday). May it therefore please you, and those that employ you in that work, to give them leave whom you so braved, as publicly to object against what you say when your sermon is ended, as you declare yourself. And we hope it will be an increase of further light to all that fear God, and put a large advantage into your hands, if you have any truth on your side, to cause it to shine with more evidence; and I hope we shall do it with moderation, and as becometh Christians.
In the following year a public disputation was held in the parish church of NEWPORT PAGNELL. A great company of ministers and people were present. Mr. John Gibbs took the side of the Baptists, and Mr. Richard Carpenter defended the principles of the Pædobaptists. Carpenter published an account of the dispute under the following title:--The Anabaptist washt and washt, and shrunk in the washing; or a Scholasticall discussion of the much agitated controversy concerning Infant Baptism, occasioned by a publick Disputation, before a great assembly of Ministers, and other persons of worth, in the church of Newport Pagnell; betwixt Mr. Gibbs, minister there, and the author, Richard Carpenter, Independent. From Carpenter's account of the origin of this discussion it is evident that he had indulged in many unneighbourly and bitter remarks about Mr. Gibbs and the Baptists. Speaking of his having "baptized a child, after preaching in the Newport Pagnell Church, before a numerous auditory, congealed and consisting of the more solid and sapid part of the town and country;" he adds, "in the sober performance of which mysterious work, the minister unsettled in place, and (it seems) in person, professing for Anabaptism, and suddenly rapt into a vertiginous motion, interrupted me; and presently summoned me, by a challenge in the face of the congregation, to give him and his brethren of the Separation, a meeting there in publick, after his twelve days' preparation, Parascere, to his intended victory." In another place, Carpenter thus speaks of the learned and conscientious Mr. Gibbs: "This heady enthusiast, having now in his own head, the head of the universe, was insooth sometimes a member of the university, (for which he did evaporate his grief, and cry out in the pangs of his inward remorsement before the country), and had been somewhat vexatious to the Protestant ministers in the circle about him. His friends and allies fixed all their eyes, with all their lies, upon him as the Carry Castle, or Behemoth of the country." Another specimen of the style of Carpenter's book will suffice. "Anabaptism," says Carpenter, "is not exempted from the sacred mysteries that these are set and rooted together as unclean creatures, or Creatures. Lev. xi. 17. The owl, the cormorant, the great owl. The little owl resembles the un-baptized child; the great owl is the Anabaptist parent; and Corvus Marinus, the cormorant betwixt them, is the wide-throated preacher that divides the child from the parent, dives into them and swallows their souls."
Baxter and Tombes, at Bewdley.
In 1649 Richard Baxter and John Tombes held a public discussion on baptism at BEWDLEY. Baxter was a personal friend of Tombes, and had introduced him to the church at Bewdley, some three miles from Kidderminster. During their residence in London, Tombes and Baxter had frequently conversed on the subject of infant baptism, and Baxter was then so far shaken in his opinions, that he not only thought and spoke favourably of Baptists, but for some time discontinued the practice of infant baptism. It is needless to say how entirely his mind and conduct were afterwards changed. Some of the most foolish things ever uttered against Baptists came from the lips of Richard Baxter. Tombes had preached a series of sermons at Bewdley on the subject of baptism, which still occupied his thoughts, and some of Mr. Baxter's friends, having walked over to hear them, brought back notes to the "painful preacher" at Kidderminster, urging him to reply in writing to Tombes' arguments. Many letters now passed between the two friends. Baxter says, rather tartly, that Tombes' "doctrine did not prevail, at least, not to his desire. At this the man grew angry; and began to charge it so sharply on their consciences, that the poor people were much troubled. He told them in the pulpit, that let men budge it how they would, it was their hypocrisy that hindered them from receiving the truth." Referring to himself, Baxter says, "I perceived myself in a strait, and that my forbearing ever to preach for infant baptism, or to baptize any, would not serve my turn to continue my peace." At last Baxter yielded to the request of his friends, and consented to dispute with Tombes in the chapel at Bewdley. They met on the 1st of Jan. 1649, before ten o'clock in the morning. Great crowds of people from Kidderminster and the neighbourhood flocked to hear the two friends dispute on this much-vexed question. Hour after hour sped away, and yet the discussion still continued. It had been some time dark before the debate was brought to a close. During the whole of that wordy war, lasting the greater part of the dull, cold, wintry day, neither combatant had broken his fast, so that physical exhaustion had a good deal to do with the actual termination of the dispute. Both sides claimed the victory; but Wood declares, "That all the scholars then and there present, who knew the way of disputing and managing arguments, did conclude that Tombes got the better of Baxter by far."
Here are a few specimens of Baxter's arguments: " (1) All that are Christ's disciples ordinarily ought to be baptized; but some infants are Christ's disciples, therefore some infants ordinarily ought to be baptized. . . . (21) That doctrine which maketh all infants to be members of the visible kingdom of the devil, is false doctrine; but that doctrine which denieth any infant to be a member of the visible Church, doth make them all members of the visible kingdom of the devil; therefore it is false. . . . (23) If an infant were head of the visible Church, then infants may be members; but Christ, an infant, was head of the Church; therefore, infants may be members."
Here also is one of Baxter's slanders: "My seventh argument is also against another wickedness in their manner of baptizing, which is, their dipping persons naked, as is usual with the modestest of them, as I have heard. Against which I argue thus: If it be a breach of the seventh commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery) ordinarily to baptize naked, then it is an intolerable wickedness, and not God's commandment; but it is a breach of the seventh commandment ordinarily to baptize naked; therefore it is intolerable wickedness, and not God's commandment." The remarks he makes, in his published account of the controversy, about his old friend and neighbour's loss of modesty, in baptizing people naked, &c. &c., were scarcely, one would think, uttered to his face. They are the afterthoughts of bitterness, originating in his conscious defeat. It can hardly be supposed, by the most credulous believer in Baxter, that Baxter really accepted this popular calumny against the Baptists, which Gangræna Edwards did his very best to circulate.
Many other public disputes took place during this period, of which we have only the briefest record. Kiffin, Knollys, Pendarvis, and many other Baptist worthies, both in London and the country, entered the lists in defence of their opinions. The latter minister, the founder of the church at Abingdon, from his celebrity and success provoked Dr. Jasper Mayne, of Christ's Church, Oxford, who resided at Pyxton, near Watlington, to oppose him on the subject of baptism. A public dispute was accordingly held between Pendarvis and Dr. Mayne in the parish church at Watlington. "There was present," says Wood, "an innumerable company of people on each side; but through the scum of the people, and the party of Anabaptists who backed Pendarvis, behaving themselves insolently, the dispute came to nothing." Wood adds, that the Baptists printed this dispute to their own advantage; but both statements must be received with caution, considering the animus of the writer.
Tombes, with Vaughan and Cragge, at Abergavenny.
A more notable dispute took place in the same year (1653). Tombes, who was then vicar of Leominster, was again the Baptist champion; Henry Vaughan, called by his contemporaries, "The Silurist," and John Cragge, were his opponents. The discussion was held in St. Mary's Church, Abergavenny. The writer, who records the discussion, speaks in no very complimentary terms of the Baptists. "They inveigled the poor, and simple people especially." "Women, and inferior tradesmen, which in seven years can scarce learn the mystery of the lowest profession, think half seven years enough (gained from their worldly employments), to understand the mysteries of divinity, and whereupon meddle with controversy, which they have no more capacity to pry into than a bat to look into the third heaven!" The writer also gives us his version of the public discussions of Tombes elsewhere. "The disputes at Bewdley, Hereford, and Ross [with Mr. Tirer and Mr. Smith], have been successful to astonishment; and in this last, at Abergavenny (though tumultuary, and on a sudden), hath appeared the finger of God. He hath, with spittle and clay, opened the eyes of the blind, overthrown the wails of Jericho with the sound of ram's horns; with these weak means hath wrought strong effects, that no creature may glory in an arm of flesh."
There are two accounts of the origin of Tombes' visit to Abergavenny. One is that he had been importuned, for several months together, to come into Wales "and water what Miles Prosser and others had planted." Another account states that his object in coming was to confirm a child lately baptized in London. The first seems the more probable explanation. "When he entered the pulpit," says the reporter, whom we quote, "great expectation was what mountains would bring forth." His text was Mark xvi. 6-- "Whence he concluded, that infant baptism was a nullity, a mockery; no baptism but dipping or plunging was lawful; all that would be saved must be rebaptized, or baptized after profession; that there was no such thing as infant baptism in primitive times, but that it came in with other corruptions, upon unsound grounds; and challenged the whole congregation to speak, if they had anything to say on the controversy." A great excitement was thereupon created. Some of the people were offended.
Others were "staggered or scrupled; and some, not knowing what to think of their own, their children's, or their ancestors' salvation." Many "well-learned" heard Mr. Tombes, and heard with amazement. Among them were Vaughan, "schoolmaster of the town, formerly fellow of Jesus College, Oxford," and Mr. Bonner, an aged clergyman of the neighbourhood. No one spoke after the service in answer to Tombes' challenge; but Bonner "closed with him on the way to his lodging." Tombes "slighted the grave old man," but promised he would confer with him on the following day." "That night, and especially next morning, the Anabaptists triumphed, saying, Where are your champions now?"
Morning came, but only to redouble the excitement already created in the quiet little Welsh town. Cragge, Vaughan, and Bonner went to the house where Tombes was staying; but the crowd which followed them surged into the house, filled the street, and prevented any discussion. It was, however, agreed that a public debate should be held in the parish church at one o'clock.
At that hour the ancient and spacious church of St. Mary's was crowded. Tombes took the pulpit, with his friend Mr. Abbetts, a resident Baptist minister; his three opponents fixed themselves in a seat hard by. Bonner was "preparing to give the onset," when some gentleman near dissuaded. him, "lest in his aged and feeble state he should impair his health." For six long hours the debate continued, without any apparent flagging of the interest.
Vaughan began by urging that infants may be lawfully baptized, since baptism has now taken the place of circumcision, and is the ceremony by which children are admitted into the covenant of grace. He confesses that baptism was anciently practised by plunging. Tombes begs the people to observe this concession of his antagonist; and Vaughan retorts by charging Tombes with his "overuncharitable speach in his sermon," to the effect that "infant baptism was a nullity and mockery, and concluded them and all their ancestors, even all the Western Church for fifteen hundred years, under damnation." Although "plunging was the ancient way," says Vaughan, "yet the Church has power, upon the sight of inconvenience, of order and decency's sake, to alter the circumstantials and externals of any ordinance. Had she not changed the time of celebrating the Lord's Supper from the evening to the morning?" Vaughan ends by appealing to Tombes to cease to embroil the Church of God, so infinitely torn already, and to submit to the judgment and scarcely interrupted practice of the Western Church for fifteen hundred years.
Cragge, the clergyman of the parish, next enters the lists. He begins by an apology. The task forced upon him is "on a sudden," and finds him "unprovided." Moreover, his antagonist is "an experienced champion." If he (Cragge) should fail in his part, he hopes the cause he has at heart may not suffer. He asks liberty to premeditate, and promises to treat upon the subject of the debate hereafter. Still, "if he were to study the matter in dispute as many hours as Mr. Tombes had studied it days, or days as he had done weeks, or weeks as he had done months, or months as he had done years," the truth was so evidently on his (Cragge's) side "that he could not fear (maugre all opposition) to make it clear. In the meanwhile, trusting to God's assistance (whose cause it was), he would attempt, beginning with his enthymena: ‘Some infants may not be baptized, therefore some infants may be baptized.'" Tombes denies this; but Cragge at once replies: "Subcontrary propositions in a contingent matter may be both true. But these (viz., some infants may not be baptized, some infants may be baptized), are subcontrary propositions in a contingent matter; therefore they may be both true."
The narrator of the debate tells us that "Here Mr. Cragge appealed to the judgment of the people!" but what "inferior tradesmen," who had "no more capacity to pry into" theology “than a bat to look up into the third heaven," knew about "sub-contrary propositions in contingent matters," is more than he chooses to tell us. He, however, makes abundantly evident that there was in the audience, from the very first, a strong sympathy with their own local champion, and assures us that Tombes would, after Mr. Cragge's appeal to them, have waded into "a large discourse to wind himself out" of his difficulty. Cragge thereupon complains that Tombes, "like a lapwing, is carrying the hearers far from the matter in dispute;" and Cragge's remark smacking of tartness, a certain "C. P.," a local apothecary, who had already interposed, spoke out, and got snubbed for his pains, a "gentleman of authority telling him that it was not fit for a man of his place and calling to speak!" "C. P." took his snubbing meekly, and remained silent the rest of the debate.
Tombes method of expounding the passages he quoted did not please some of the audience, and they cried out that he was wasting time. "A learned gentleman" also had his fling at Tombes, evidently a soldier, from his similes: "This is but to spend time in parleying, that you may avoid the gunshot; for you are afraid of the great thunderbolt that is behind."
Cragge now quotes Ambrose's saying, "That he who baptized all nations, excepted none, not even infants;" but, shocking to say, Tombes "pished at it, and slighted Ambrose's authority," to the great scandal of the Abergavenny folk. Here was an opportunity for an appeal to the "inferior tradesmen" which even Cragge could not resist; and hence he cries, "Whether will you obey Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and the Scriptures, or Mr. Tombes, vicar of Leominster, against the Scriptures, judge ye!" The applause which greeted this appeal showed that the questioner had rightly gauged his audience.
According to the account of the debate, from which we have quoted, evidently written by a bitter hater of Baptists, and no friend of Tombes, the Leominster vicar, who set himself above Ambrose, "would now have broken through the pales to rove abroad again; but he was pressed to keep within the lists." He still denied "that children were holy," or "in the covenant;" and so "gave but little satisfaction to the greatest part of the hearers." Nay, he was even "nettled, as if something in Cragge's argument had galled him." "Children are holy," retorts Cragge: "you do not like that saying, because it cuts the throat of your tenet." " Nay," replies Tombes; "it does not so much as touch its skin."
Here a voice from under the pulpit shouted to Tombes, "You answer nothing at all; but shift and deny all." Tombes, stooping down, looks at the man, and says, "Thou art an impudent, brazen-faced fellow, whosoever thou art. I have answered all; confuted all my adversaries' books; and amongst them one of my greatest adversaries. I have turned Mr. Richard Baxter the most of his argument."
"A little while after this, Mr. Tombes, looking upon his watch, said, ‘I am weary of this pedantry. I promised but one hour, and it is four hours.' With that he clapped his book together. ‘Good Mr. Tombes,' said an Anabaptist, continue a little longer for the satisfaction of the people.' He gave no answer; but put on his hat."
The reason of Tombes' chagrin is patent enough. Cragge's congregation backed up their minister, even where they could not understand him; and Tombes accordingly said, when leaving the church, that he would have no further dispute with him, except by writing. The following Sunday Mr. Cragge, at the request of his many sympathisers, preached from the same text as Mr. Tombes, and no doubt abundantly satisfied the people who had been "staggered," or "offended," and "grieved," by the eloquent Baptist. Tombes was now safely out of the way at Leominster, and peace was once more restored to the quiet little town on the Usk.
Denne and Gunning, in London.
Five years after the Abergavenny dispute, a still more famous discussion took place in London. Its origin was this: some gentlewoman in the metropolis, having become a Christian, was in great trouble about the lawfulness or unlawfulness of infant baptism. In order to remove her doubts, Mr. Henry Denne, the indefatigable General Baptist minister, and Dr. Gunning, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, agreed to discuss the subject in public, and St. Clement Dane's Church, London, "without Temple Bar," was selected as the place in which the discussion should be held. Thousands of people were attracted to listen. The dispute began on the 19th November, 1658, and was renewed on the 26th of the same month.
On the first day, Henry Denne occupied the pulpit, Dr. Gunning fixing himself in a gallery opposite. Entreating the multitude to be silent, and behave themselves civilly and orderly, Mr. Denne thus began: "One there is, who desireth to be informed whether the baptism of infants be lawful or unlawful. I declare that the baptism of infants is unlawful." To this Dr. Gunning replies, from his seat in the gallery, "I will prove the baptism of infants to be lawful. Thus: that which the Supreme Lawgiver of the Church hath given in command to His immediate officers of the Church, by a perpetual sanction and unalterable decree, to be by them practised, is lawful. But the baptism of infants is, by the Supreme Lawgiver of the Church given in command to His immediate officers, by a perpetual sanction and unalterable decree, to be by them and their successors practised. Therefore, the baptism of infants is lawful." Denne "denies the minor;" whereupon Gunning adds, that "it is Christ's will that infants should be saved, and that, as they cannot be saved without baptism, or desire for baptism, in their paients or friends, therefore it is Christ's will and command that they should be baptized." Denne readily grants the first part of Gunning's assertion, "that Christ will have infants to be saved;" but altogether demurs to Gunning's statement, "that baptism is the condition of salvation, and therefore lawful." The future bishop now quotes John iii. 4, and urges that, "to be born again of water, is baptism:"
Denne's reply is very shrewd. "The place of Scripture you have brought is allegorical," said Denne; "and therefore not so proper to be a ground of faith. Against this gloss, or explanation, three things may be urged: (1) That Scripture must be considered to whom and of whom, they speak; and not to be applied to any other concerning whom it doth not speak. This Scripture (John iii. 4) is addressed to Nicodemus, seeking to learn the way of God, and is neither spoken of children, nor to children. (2) By being born again of water is not meant baptism, but a mystical, and not literal water. (3) If it were granted that the text did include children, and that by water baptism were intended, yet it will not follow that children cannot be saved without baptism, because here is only mention made of entering into the kingdom of God. You know the kingdom of God hath manifold exceptions [meanings] in the Scriptures; sometimes it is taken for Gospel preaching, sometimes for a visible church, sometimes for that happiness which men and women (not infants) do enter through believing."
The dispute next turns upon whether the Greek words in the commission are intended to include "children" as well as men and women, Gunning, of course, contending that they do, and Denne quoting passages to show that they do not. "Have you a Greek Testament?" asked Gunning, with a sneer. Denne, who can quote Greek as readily as the doctor, passes over the sneer, and refers to the passage quoted. A further contention arises as to whether Tertullian or Justin Martyr was the first to mention infant baptism, and Gunning "appeals to the Christian auditors" with something of a triumphant flourish.
Gunning's second argument in favour of infant baptism is the following:--"That which is no sin for parents to require, and for ministers to perform, being required, is lawful. But it is no sin for parents to require baptism for their infants, neither for ministers to perform it, being required. Therefore, the baptism of infants is lawful." Of course, Denne again "denies the minor," and contends that "it is a sin;" to which Gunning rejoins, "that being confirmed by an everlasting law, and standing commission, not to be altered to the end of the world, it is no sin."
Then follows a bit of word-quibbling on "the commission;" Gunning thinking he had his opponent on the hip, because he spoke of "children being unwilling," whereas, "it is impossible that they should be unwilling, seeing they know not anything of the matter; and Denne replying, with some sharpness, "You might have spared this labour, for I did not say that children were unwilling, but I said that they were not willing. There is a vast difference between the two. You know, for example, how willing Constantius Copronymus was to be baptized when he was an infant, and how he came to have the name Copronymus. I forbear to tell the story before this audience; but come, point me a syllogism out of the words of the commission.'" "The Apostles are commanded to make disciples of all nations," replies Gunning. "Now infants, who are part of the nations, cannot be made disciples in any other way than by baptism; therefore, they are here commanded to make disciples by baptism." Gunning further contends that infants are "called," "predestinated," "God's servants," "given to Christ by the Father," and were therefore properly regarded as "Church members;" but Denne, holding Arminian views, objects in toto to his statements.
The doctor now quotes Austin's opinion, namely, that the baptism of infants was held by the Church from apostolic times, and that he (Gunning) is prepared to prove this, "by several testimonies from the Ancients." But Denne rejoins, that although that might be Austin's opinion, Erasmus, "who laboured much in Austin, and Ludovicus Vives, who was very skilled in his doctrine," were neither of them convinced by his opinion, and both believed the contrary to be true of the early churches. "Moreover," adds Denne, "you know what I have already told you out of Tertullian and Gregory Nazianzen. I think it needless to repeat the same things again."
After much debate, in which the former arguments were again repeated by both opponents, the first day's discussion ended, they mutually agreeing to meet on that day week.
The two opponents on the second day changed places Gunning is the respondent, and Denne the opponent. It is not stated, however, whether Gunning now occupied the pulpit and Denne the seat in the gallery opposite. Gunning leads off in precisely the same manner as Denne had previously done, and Denne opposes. "One desires," says the doctor, "to be informed touching the baptism of infants, whether it be lawful, or unlawful. I affirm the baptism of infants to be lawful." "And I will prove," rejoined Denne, "the baptism of infants to be unlawful. If the baptism of infants be lawful, it is either from some reason delivered by you, or some other; but not by any reason delivered by you, or any other; therefore, the baptism of infants is not lawful." He argues that it is neither supported by tradition nor Scripture; and as Denne pours out text upon text in support of the last statement, Gunning loses his self-control, and after telling Denne that "he (Gunning) does not carry a Concordance in his head," asks him, "whether he (Denne) knows what is the Ethiopic word to "teach."
A closer wrestling ensues from this point. Gunning affirms that "infants who are un-baptized are shut out of heaven;" and Denne retorts, "that, if they are, then God punishes some creatures for that which they cannot help;" but that this is contrary to the Divine conduct, and "therefore un-baptized infants are not shut out of heaven." With some heat, Gunning instantly exclaims, "I deny the consequence;" to which, as warmly, Denne replies, "Then shutting out of heaven is no punishment."
This appeared a bold statement, and greatly startled some of the vast assembly who were listening to the word-wrangling with breathless attention. "Bear witness! bear witness!” some eagerly cried out; “he saith, ‘It is no punishment to be shut out of heaven.'" Others affirmed, "That he plainly in so many syllables had said so, as they were ready to witness."
Gunning appears not to have taken notice of this reply, or of the clamour it raised, and goes on to say, "That as the potter hath power over the clay, to use it at his pleasure, so God might do what He would with His own." Denne's reply is cautious, and was repeated three or four times, without the least notice being taken of it by his opponent. "I do not say," said Denne, "what God may, or may not do, but what He doth. Now, we know that God cannot do contrary to His oath; but to punish creatures for what they cannot help, is contrary to His oath; therefore, God cannot do it. Moreover, this I argue: If God punish creatures for that they cannot help, then He doth not leave all the world without excuse. But He will leave all the world without excuse; therefore, He will not punish any creature for that which he cannot help."
Not only did not Gunning give any answer to this argument, but he now began loudly to complain of "the injury that was being done to him by the disorder of the auditors." Denne also confessed his sorrow at the uproar, but protested that it was altogether without his approbation." "He had still," said Denne, "many other things to propound, but the time allotted to the dispute was spent, and his own infirmities began to press upon him, and he should therefore cease."
The upshot of the debate was, that five days after, the lady, at whose instance the discussion began, was publicly immersed. The day, we are told, "was cold and sharp, and it seemed strange that a gentlewoman should endure, at that season of the year, and in such weather, to go into the water and be dipt all over;" but as "fantastical ladies have a proverb, ‘Pride feels no cold,' so it may be said of faith and zeal: they also feel no cold."
As to the general result of the debate, "the success was estimated according to the different affections, rather than the judgments of some men and women." The writer closes his account by a fact which is recorded for the special benefit of the Vicar of Kidderminster, who had declared that baptism by immersion was not much better than murder, since it was frequently attended with great bodily risk. "I can show Mr. Baxter, an old man in London, who hath laboured in the Lord's pool many years, converted by his ministry (as an instrument in the hand of the Lord) more men and women than Mr. Baxter hath in all his parish. Yet, when he hath laboured a greater part of the day in preaching and reasoning, his refection hath been, not a sack-posset or cawdle, but to go into the water and baptize converts." The inference intended to be conveyed by this circumstance is too obvious to need statement; but we greatly question whether there are many who would now endorse that inference.
The Portsmouth Debate
demands more than a passing notice, since it was the last public disputation of any consequence on the subject of baptism in England. It arose out of these circumstances: Mr. Samuel Chandler, a Presbyterian minister of Fareham, established a fortnightly lecture in the town of Portsmouth. Following out a certain plan of his own, he was led to treat on the subject of "Sacraments," and uttered some harsh things in the course of this discussion against the principles and practices of the Baptists. A gentleman, not a Baptist, who attended these lectures, took them down in short-hand, and showed them to several of his friends, amongst others, to Mr. Thomas Bowes, the General Baptist minister of the town. Mr. Bowes thinking the cause of truth might suffer if these strictures were allowed to pass unnoticed, waited upon his friend, Mr. Webber, the Particular Baptist minister of Gosport. Mr. Webber coinciding with Mr. Bowes' opinion, a number of Baptists attended Mr. Chandler's next lecture, in which he undertook to answer the objections urged by his opponents. At the close of the service, Mr. Bowes stood up before all the congregation, and charged Mr. Chandler with preaching false doctrine, challenged him to meet publicly an ordained minister and discuss the question of baptism. The lecturer at once accepted the challenge, only stipulating that his opponent should be "a man who understood the laws of disputation." The Presbyterians applied to the magistrates of Portsmouth to obtain for them a licence from the King, "publicly to vindicate the common cause of the Reformed churches, and settle the wavering in the belief and practice of those truths which tend very much to the advancement of early piety and religion." The licence was granted, and both parties looked out for the ablest champions. At first the Baptists thought of Mr. Matthew Caffyn, but being suspected of heresy, he was passed over. They next turned their eyes to William Russell, M.D., the well-known General Baptist minister of London, and procured his consent to defend their cause. With Dr. Russell, in the position of "junior counsel" and "moderator," were Mr. John Williams, of East Knowle, and Mr. John Sharpe, of Frome, both Particular Baptist ministers. The Presbyterians selected Mr. Samuel Chandler, the lecturer, whose words had given such offence; Mr. Leigh, of Newport; and Mr. Robinson, of Hungerford, the last gentleman acting as moderator for their party.
The day agreed upon for the disputation was February the 22nd, 1698-9; and the place, the Presbyterian Meeting-house, High Street, Portsmouth. The assembly was worthy of the debate. The governor and the lieutenant-governor were present, the mayor, and the magistrates of Portsmouth. A large and well-to-do class of people filled the chapel, and, as one authority tells us, the military and the civil power attended, at the command of the King, to preserve peace and good order. The debate began between nine and ten in the morning, and continued without cessation for nine hours.
Mr. Chandler commenced by delivering a "Prologue," and repeating the questions to be disputed, namely, "(1) Whether, according to the commission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, adult believers are only the proper subjects of baptism, and not infants? (2) Whether the ordinance of baptism, as appointed by Christ, is to be administered by dipping, plunging, or overwhelming only, and not otherwise? They affirm, and we deny."
Dr. Russell, after a few preliminary questions and answers, leads off the debate. He affirms that Christ nowhere requires any of His ministers to baptize infants, and therefore the baptism of infants is not according to His commission. Mr. Chandler replies, "If you will allow good consequences drawn from Scripture, I will deny your minor." "Then you must suppose that Christ hath required some of His ministers to baptize infants," said Dr. Russell. Mr. Chandler answers, "We distinguish between consequential truths and express words." "So do we," answers Dr. Russell; "but I hope our Lord's commission about holy baptism is delivered in express words, and not in consequentials. The term in my argument is very lax; I do not say there ‘command,' but ‘required;' and if you prove the baptism of infants anywhere required' by Christ, it is sufficient."
Mr. Leigh here interposes to ask if the doughty champion of the Baptists "will allow good Scripture consequences in the case, or whether he expects plain Scripture words?" "If you can prove it without an express command, prove, that is, that Christ ‘required' it, that will suffice;" but, adds the doctor, "you must remember that you are to prove it according to Christ's commission (for those are the terms of the question), and I believe you will find it a difficult task to do that by consequence." "What! from the commission?" asked Chandler in amazement; whereupon the Presbyterian moderator, Mr. Robinson, declares that Dr. Russell must prove his position by a universal negative. Nothing loth, the doctor asks that Mr. Chandler should deny some part of his argument, a thing he had not yet prevailed upon him to do, and presently says: "If the requiring of infant baptism be anywhere recorded in Holy Scripture, either Mr. Chandler, or some other person, is able to shew it. But neither Mr. Chandler, nor any other person whatsoever, is able to shew it; therefore, it is not anywhere so recorded in Holy Scripture." Mr. Chandler, being thus pinned in a corner, seeks to escape by "denying Dr. Russell's minor;" upon which the doctor appeals to the Presbyterian moderator, that he (the moderator) had asked for "an universal negative," that one had now been given, and that Mr. Chandler was therefore bound, in all fairness, to give a single instance where it was so written that infants should be baptized. Conscious of his own mistake, the moderator replies: "Suppose Mr. Chandler cannot give an instance, nor anybody in the company, you cannot thence infer that none in the world can." But this evasive answer calls for a biting reply from Dr. Russell. "What is this," said he, "but in effect to give away your cause, when so many men of parts and learning are here present? If you all refuse to give a single instance, the people will think that you have none to give."
The doctor, begging the audience to notice that his first argument stands until the instance asked for is given, now marshals his second, which is as follows: "If infants are not capable of being made disciples of Christ by the ministry of men, then they cannot possibly be the subjects of baptism intended in Christ's commission; but infants are not capable to be made disciples of Christ by the ministry of men; therefore they cannot possibly be subjects of baptism intended in Christ's commission." A dispute at once followed as to whether Dr. Russell meant by "making disciples," "actual and complete disciples," Mr. Leigh urging, "I thus distinguish: infants may be entered into the church in order for learning, &c., and they are disciples before baptism; yet, in a more visible sense, they are made disciples by baptism." This does not satisfy Dr. Russell: "infants have, as infants, no knowledge of good and evil, and therefore they are not capable, while they are infants, to be made disciples by the ministry of men." Chandler here complains that Russell "tricks all this while; that what he (Chandler) means by infants being disciples, is their being solemnly invested by baptism;" but Russell declares he is discussing "pre-requisites for baptism," and was not speaking of "investiture." A second time the debate falls into a dispute about "complete" discipleship; and Chandler, confessing that infants were not, as infants, capable of that, Russell claims to have maintained his second argument. "It is now, therefore, high time that I descended to a new one."
The "new argument" should be specially observed, from the shuffling method by which Mr. Leigh sought to meet it. "If the Apostle Paul did declare all the counsel of God, and kept back nothing that was profitable for the Church of God, and yet did never declare the baptism of infants to be a Gospel institution, according to Christ's commission, then it is no Gospel institution, nor any part of the counsel of God, nor profitable for the Church of God; but the Apostle Paul did declare all the counsel of God, and kept back nothing that was profitable for the Church of God; and yet did never declare the baptism of infants to be a Gospel institution, according to Christ's commission; therefore it is no Gospel institution, nor any part of the counsel of God, nor profitable for the Church of God." Mr. Leigh's method of replying to this argument is, by suggesting that Paul wrote divers Epistles upon many subjects; that evidently some leaves were cut off from one of his Epistles, that to the Ephesians; and that, for anything that Dr. Russell might know to the contrary, Paul might have advocated infant baptism in one or other of these missing leaves! The doctor replies to Mr. Leigh's miserable shift by asking him pointedly if he believes, with the Assembly of Divines, that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule to direct us in matters of worship; and by demanding that Mr. Leigh, or some of his friends, should produce these six missing leaves of the Epistle of Paul (of which he had never before heard), and prove that they were really written by Paul; and then, if such a thing as infant baptism were contained in any of them, he would allow it. "Hereupon Mr. Leigh was angry;" and no wonder. He still, however, reiterated his statement in another form. "Paul's writings are not the hundredth part of what Paul preached; we cannot suppose that in these six chapters to the Ephesians, he could contrive to put down the whole of his preaching in them." Here Dr. Russell sarcastically twits Leigh with favouring the Popish notion of the value of tradition, in his talk about "Paul's sermons, not written." "I have heard," he says, " of some unwritten traditions that are locked up in the Pope's breast, to be delivered out as he finds occasion to serve a turn; but I never knew that the Presbyterians were ever entrusted with any such treasure!"
Triumphing over his opponents in his third argument, Dr. Russell now adduces his fourth: "Christ's commission doth show who are to be baptized; but it doth not show that infants are to be baptized; therefore infants are not the subjects of baptism, according to Christ's commission." Mr. Leigh objects; again cites his former statement, that children are included in the term "all nations;" and a second time repeats the opinion, that there is no necessity for persons to be disciples, in the doctor's sense, before they are baptized. Then Dr. Russell, a little piqued by the stale repetition, replies, "I will read my Master's commission;” and forthwith slowly reads Matthew xxviii. 19.
Here the Presbyterian moderator "bawls very loud, saying, Mr. Williams, will you suffer him to preach?" But the doctor is not to be put down by clamour, nor yet by the insinuation that he is going to preach Arminian doctrine, and so offend his Calvinistic colleague Mr. Williams. "What," said Dr. Russell to the Presbyterian moderator, "do you talk of preaching? Are you afraid of the commission? Are you not in danger of earning Tertullian's reproach of one of the Fathers, that he was Lucifugæ Scripturarum, &c., flying from the light of the Scriptures, as bats from the light of the sun?" and declares that if his opponents (who are sticklers for the Institutes of the Genevan Reformer) should oppose what he (Dr. Russell) had said, they would at the same time oppose Calvin himself, who had not only declared that there was no mention made of infants in the commission, but had further said, that we might as well apply these words to little infants : "If any will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess. iii, 10), and so keep them from food until they starve!
This apt quotation from Calvin displeased the Presbyterian moderator, who asked, in querulous tones, "What have we to do with what Mr. Calvin says?" To which the doctor slily rejoins, "I did not know but you might have had a veneration for Mr. Calvin; but seeing it is otherwise, I will thus argue from the commission:" and then proceeds to give his own view of it. A squabble presently arises between Mr. Leigh and the moderator of his party; and Dr. Russell thinks that the two had better change places, Mr. Leigh become moderator and Mr. Robinson disputant. After this escapade on the moderator's part (who seems to have been very unfit for his responsible post), the wordy war proceeds, Russell affirming, Leigh denying, now in one way now in another, that the commission only warrants the baptism of believers.
Mr. Leigh touches by-and-by upon dangerous ground. He argues that "if believing be previous to baptism, it must be necessary to salvation; and so you must say, that all not believing are damned; and so all infants are damned." Russell declares that this is a non sequitur, as he has already shown that infants are not at all intended in the commission; "but," he solemnly adds, "as touching infants, I am far from believing that God hath decreed them, as such, to eternal damnation. I will rather believe that all infants, dying in their infancy, are elected"--(a great stretch of belief for this valiant General Baptist) "than conclude that any of them were damned." He asks, moreover, that as he has so freely expressed his opinion upon this subject of infant salvation, the Presbyterians should be equally outspoken concerning their opinions on the same subject. But he asks in vain.
Mr. Williams next suggests Erasmus' reading of the commission--"Go, teach all nations, and when they have learned, dip them;" but the Presbyterian moderator again forgets his duties, and appeals to the audience "You see, sirs, this gentleman grounds his opinion upon the authority of Erasmus;" "who is well known to have been between a Papist and a Protestant," chimes in Mr. Leigh. But both Russell and Williams argue that, whatever his opinions, Erasmus was a man not to be despised for his skill about the etymology of a Greek word; that it was his judgment, as one of the best scholars of his time, and not his authority, that led to his being quoted; "but," says Russell, with some exhibition of temper, "anything serves your turn at a pinch."
Mr. Leigh again makes an unfortunate slip, which Dr. Russell, as a controversialist, quickly takes up, and makes merry over namely, in speaking about eunuchs and "the eunuchs' children." Russell at once recollects an amusing story of another Presbyterian minister who had made the same blunder, and cannot forbear telling it with the evident gusto of an "M.D. of the famous University of Cambridge."
Mr. Williams, "the junior counsel," now relieves Dr. Russell of the leading part in the debate. He (Mr. Williams) argues, that since infants are incapable of denying themselves for Christ, they are incapable of being made disciples of Christ. Of course Mr. Leigh, who has been left by Mr. Chandler to do the hardest part of the work, objects to this, and asks "if infants are not as capable of believing in Christ, as of coming to Christ; and yet they were said to come when their parents brought them." Mr. Williams denies that the parents' faith was imputed to the children, as Mr. Leigh suggests. Again a rather dangerous concession was made by the leading Presbyterian disputant; Mr. Leigh said, in effect, that infant baptism might be practised in the apostolic or early times, though no instance was recorded in the New Testament. At this Dr. Russell wakens up again, and asks if he (Leigh) will grant that no case is recorded in the New Testament? "We will suppose it," he replies, "but not grant it." "O yes," adds the doctor, "you suppose it because you cannot prove it; for you are not so free of your concessions." This stirs up Mr. Leigh's anger, and he replies, with tartness, "It is not recorded in the New Testament what you practice; namely, that grown children of believers were baptized. I challenge you to give one instance of any one, born of believing parents, baptized at age." Dr. Russell here repeats his former challenge, for a single instance in the New Testament of any one infant that was ever baptized; and as Mr. Leigh presses for an example of a child of believing parents who was baptized, he refers to Constantine, whose mother Helena was a Christian, and declares that he does not recollect a single instance of any one of the Fathers, or eminent bishops of the Church during the first five hundred years of the Christian era, who were baptized until they were between twenty and thirty years of age; and if any of his opponents know an instance to the contrary, he shall be glad if they will quote it. "What do you tell us of Fathers?" asks Mr. Leigh: "we are not bound to abide by their testimony." "Well then," asks Mr. Williams, "was not the mother of our Lord a believer when Christ was born?" Mr. Leigh is angry that such a question should be asked; and declares, with some exhibition of impatience, "that everybody knows that she was." "But do you believe it?" rejoins Mr. Williams, following up the advantage he had gained by this adroit question. "Yes, I do believe it: what then?" "Then, this," replies Mr. Williams, "here is an instance for you, from Scripture, of a child-believer, that was a believer before he was born; and yet he was not baptized till he came to years; and this we can prove."
A general titter ran through the crowded assembly at the skilful manner in which Mr. Leigh was caught; and Mr. Leigh grew pale and troubled, as a man might be expected to do under such uncomfortable circumstances; but he presently recovered his self-possession, and replied, "Our discourse was grounded on the commission; now was this before the commission, or after it?"--a skilful parry, but losing its effect through coming rather as an after-thought than as a prompt and instantaneous reply. Of course Dr. Russell now came to the rescue of his "junior," showed that Mr. Leigh was mistaken, and that he really had received "a pertinent answer already, every way suitable to his question." There must have been a little more laughter among the audience at this point, since Mr. Leigh "made no reply." He is nothing daunted, however; and proceeds to show that, in his judgment, "infants are visible Church members," the proof-passage being the words of Christ, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Mr. Williams' reply to this is, that infants are neither members of the universal Church, nor yet of a particularly constituted Church, and therefore they are not members of the visible Church at all. His opponent does not notice his argument, but again declares that infants are part of a nation, and therefore might be baptized. Mr. Williams answers, "Though children are part of a nation, yet not of the nation modified by Christ's commission."
Upon this the Presbyterian moderator rather rudely calls the attention of the audience to the fact that Mr. Williams "has no academical learning;" Mr. Williams rejoins with a touch of sarcasm, "I am warned by that word to have a care of vain philosophy;" and at once asked "what was the antecedent to the relative them in the commission?" The moderator now found it wiser to be silent; but both Dr. Russell and Mr. Williams answered for him, "all nations discipled." They both again ask for a single instance of infant baptism from the Word of God; and no reply being forthcoming, Dr. Russell said: "If infants are capable to be made disciples of Christ by the ministry of men, without the use of reason, then the beasts of the field are also capable; but the beasts of the field are not capable; therefore infants are not capable."
This reply greatly agitated the irritable Presbyterian moderator. "He stood up and threw himself about, making a noise like one in a delirious paroxysm, and bade the people take notice that Dr. Russell had ranked their infants among the brute beasts; and that, if they became of his opinion, they must look upon them as dogs, or cats, or hogs, &c., with much more of the same sort of rhetoric, endeavouring all he could to enrage the multitude of unthinking persons against him, and put the people into confusion." "Hold, hold," cries Dr. Russell. "Mr. Robinson, I have already told you how great an esteem I have for your little infants. . . . I now bring this illustration to show the absurdity of your opinions: Suppose there were twenty or thirty new-born infants in a room, and you should choose out the most able and learned persons amongst you to preach to them, in order to make them disciples, according to Christ's commission, I believe he would have no better success than St. Anthony had, as the story goes, when he took upon him to instruct the pigs; or, as some others have done, even Popish saints, who have taken upon them to preach to the fowls of the air," &c. His remark about the beasts, is, after all, he says, not such an out-of-the-way “conceit," since the Romish Church baptizes bells, which are certainly passive in their baptism, and on that account, says Augustine, "the fittest subjects, since children show their resistance by crying!" "And now," said he, "I demand of any of you to take off the retortion, and show the disparity if you can."
A general silence ensues, which is at length broken by the undaunted Mr. Leigh, who exclaims, "It is time to proceed to the other question: whether the ordinance of baptism, as appointed by Christ, is to be administered by dipping, plunging, or overwhelming only, and not otherwise." Dr. Russell meets this by saying: "The Holy Scriptures shows us the right way of baptizing as appointed by Christ, but it doth not show us that it ought to be done by sprinkling; therefore sprinkling is not the right way of baptizing." This did not satisfy Mr. Leigh, who at once exclaimed, "Sir, you must bring in that dipping is absolutely necessary: what do you talk of sprinkling for?" Here is another opportunity for a smart retort, and Dr Russell could not resist it: "I hope you are not ashamed of your practice; but if you will disown sprinkling to be the right way of baptizing, I am contented. I will not then insist upon it." Mr. Robinson, the moderator, felt the force of this retort; and as Mr. Leigh was silent, Mr. Robinson said: "We are not discoursing upon that now; you are to prove dipping to be the only way; and you must and shall prove it." "Must and shall," replied Dr. Russell; "must and shall is for the king, and not for Mr. Robinson."
The debate next turns upon the meaning of the Greek word translated "baptize," and Mr. Chandler, who had been silent during the greater part of the day, now opens his lips. He confesses that baptizo means to dip, but it means also "to wash;" and declares that there is great probability that many in the Scripture times were baptized by pouring a little water on the face. Dr. Russell meets his new antagonist by quoting "what Astedius saith in his Lexicon Theologicum," showing that it was only in a secondary and remote sense that the word baptizo can mean "to wash;" and quotes, in confutation of the other part of Chandler's statement, the baptism of Christ by John, and the Eunuch by Peter, where both administrator and "person baptized" went into the water.
A good deal of "confused jangling and noise" followed Russell's reply, when a new opponent suddenly starts up, a Presbyterian minister, who thinks "that there had been little said to purpose;" whereupon Russell at once says that, on the contrary, he thinks a good deal has been said to the purpose, and more than his opponents have answered. "But," said he, looking the new combatant full in the face, "if you are not satisfied, we will waive all that hath been said, and I will dispute it over with you, de novo." The Presbyterian minister shrugged his shoulders at this unexpected challenge, declared, that "he did not feel very well;" and, in fact, declined to pick up the gauntlet.
The debate came to an end between six and seven o'clock. Mr. Leigh returned thanks to the governor and mayor for their civility, which the Baptists very promptly endorsed. A brief prayer was offered by Mr. Leigh, and the assembly were dismissed.
Two "scribes" were employed to take short-hand notes of the debate; but when the Baptist "scribe" went to the Presbyterian "scribe" in order to compare notes with a view to publication, the Presbyterian declined; pleaded that he had never before been engaged in such work, and that his account was very imperfect. Nor did any one of the Baptists afterwards "procure so much as a sight of his copy." Nevertheless, three days after the debate, the following advertisement appeared in the Postman newspaper:--"Portsmouth, Feb. 23.--Yesterday the dispute between the Presbyterians and the Anabaptists was held in the Presbyterian meeting-house. It began at ten o'clock in the morning, and continued till six in the afternoon, without intermission. The theme of the dispute was, the subject of baptism, and the manner in which it is to be performed. Russell and Williams were the opponents for the Anabaptists, and Mr. Chandler and Mr. Leigh for the
Presbyterians; Mr. Sharpe was moderator for the former, and Mr. Robinson for the latter. Mr. Russell opposed infant baptism with all the subtility and sophistry of the schools; and it was answered with good reason and learning. Upon the whole, it was the opinion of all the judicious auditory, the Presbyterians sufficiently defended their doctrines, and also worsted their adversaries, when they came to assume the place of opponents."
It afterwards appeared that Colonel John Gibson, the Lieutenant-Governor of Portsmouth, was the author of this paragraph; and, from Mr. Chandler's asking his permission in the following June to print it, with the endorsement, "that he was still of the same opinion," it is not unfair to suppose that Mr. Chandler "inspired" the writer himself.
Another and fuller account appeared in the Flying Post in April, but so unfair and one-sided that Dr. Russell was provoked to publish the narrative of the debate from which we have quoted. This led to a second version by the Presbyterians a few months later, which was shown by the Baptists to be full of inaccuracies, or, as one writer more stingingly describes them, "of insertions, transpositions, falsifications, and additions."
At the close of his "prologue," Mr. Chandler asked the audience to join him in the prayer, "that God would grant that truth might prevail." We are not told by Mr. Chandler whether he regarded it as an answer to his prayer, that some of "the judicious auditory," notwithstanding Colonel Gibson's opinion, were convinced of the propriety of the Baptists' sentiments, and a few days after the debate were "dipped in water."
A good deal of bitterness on both sides grew out of the debate, and much angry recrimination, little tending to promote Christian fellowship. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at, that the Baptist historians who record the debate itself should all, without exception, rejoice that this was the last of the kind ever held in this country: a sentiment in which every reader will heartily agree.