Be intreated to believe me, I had not set pen to paper about this controversy, had we been let alone at quiet in our Christian communion. But being assaulted for more than sixteen years, wherein the brethren of the baptized way, as they had their opportunity, have sought to break us in pieces, merely because we are not, in their way, all baptized first: I could not, I durst not, forbear to do a little, if it might be, to settle the brethren, and to arm them against the attempts, which also of late they begin to revive upon us. That I deny the ordinance of baptism, or that I have placed one piece of an argument against it, though they feign it, is quite without colour of truth. All I say is, That the church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of their communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint by the word, the Christian that walketh according to his light with God. I will not make reflections upon those unhandsome brands that my brethren have laid upon me for this, as that I am a machivilian, a man devilish, proud, insolent, presumptuous, and the like, neither will I say as they, The Lord rebuke thee; Words fitter to be spoken to the devil than a brother. But reader, read and compare; lay aside prejudice and judge. What Mr. Kiffin hath done in the matter I forgive, and love him never the worse, but must stand by my principles because they are peaceable, godly, profitable, and such as tend to the edification of my brother, and as I believe will be justified in the day of judgment.
I have also here presented thee with the opinion of Mr. Henry Jesse, in the case, which providentially I met with as I was coming to London to put my papers to the press; and that it was his judgment is asserted to me, known many years since to some of the Baptists, to whom it was sent, but never yet answered; and will yet be attested if need shall require. Farewell.
Thine in all Christian service, according to my light and power,
Your seemingly serious reflections upon that part of my plain-hearted confession of faith, which rendereth a reason of my freedom to communicate with those of the saints and faithful who differ from me about water baptism; I have read and considered, and have weighed them so well as my rank and abilities will admit me to do. But finding yours, if I mistake not, far short of a candid replication, I thought [it] convenient, not only to tell you of those impertinencies everywhere scattered up and down in your book; but also, that in my simple opinion, your rigid and church-disquieting principles are not fit for any age and state of the church.
But before I enter the body of your book, give me leave a little to discourse you about your preamble to the same, wherein are two miscarriages unworthy your pretended seriousness, because void of love and humility. The first is, In that you closely disdain my person because of my low descent among men, stigmatising me for a person of THAT rank, that need not to be heeded or attended unto.
Answer What it is that gives a man reverence with you, I know not; but for certain. He that despiseth the poor reproacheth his Maker; yet, 'a poor man is better than a liar.' To have gay clothing, or gold rings, or the persons that wear them in admiration; or to be partial in your judgment, or respects, for the sake, or upon the account of, flesh and blood, doubtless convicteth you to be of the law a transgressor, and not without partiality, &c., in the midst of your seeming sanctity.
Again, you say,
'I had not meddled with the controversy at all, had I found any of parts that would divert themselves to take notice of YOU.'
Answer What need you, before you have shewed one syllable of a reasonable argument in opposition to what I assert, thus trample my person, my gifts, and grace, have I any, so disdainfully under your feet? What kind of a YOU am I? And why is MY rank so mean, that the most gracious and godly among you, may not duly and soberly consider of what I have said? Was it not the art of the false apostles of old to say thus? To bespatter a man, that his doctrine might be disregarded. 'Is not this the carpenter?' And, 'His bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible' (1Co 10:10), did not use to be in the mouths of the saints; for they knew that 'the wind bloweth where it listeth' (Joh 3:8). Neither is it high birth, worldly breeding, or wealth; but electing love, grace, and the wisdom that comes from heaven, that those who strive for strictness of order in the things and kingdom of Christ, should have in regard and esteem (Jam 3:17). Need I read you a lecture? 'Hath not God chosen the foolish,—the weak,—the base, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are?' (1Co 1:27, 28). Why then do you despise my rank, my state, and quality in the world?
As for my confession of faith, which you also secretly despise. If it be good and godly, why may it not be accepted? If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me? If you, and the brethren of your way, did think it convenient to shew to the world what you held; if perhaps by that means you might escape the person: why might not I, after above eleven years' endurance there, give the world a view of my faith and practice; if peradventure, wrong thoughts, and false judgments of me, might by that means be abated, and removed. But you suggest; I did it, because I was so willing to be known in the world by my Singular faith and practice. How singular my faith and practice is, may be better known to you hereafter: but that I did it for a popular applause and fame, as your words seem to bear, for they proceed from a taunting spirit, that will be known to you better in the day of God, when your evil surmises of your brother, and my designs in writing my book, will be published upon the house-tops (Lu 12:1-4).
And even now, before I go any further, I will give you a touch of the reason of my publishing that part thereof which you so hotly oppose. It was because of those continual assaults that the rigid brethren of your way, made, not only upon this congregation, to rend it; but also upon many others about us. If peradventure they might break us in pieces, and draw from us disciples after them. Assaults, I say, upon this congregation by times, for no less than these sixteen or eighteen years. Yea, myself they have sent for, and endeavoured to persuade me to break communion with my brethren; also with many others they have often tampered, if haply their seeds of division might take. Neither did they altogether fail of their purpose, for some they did rend and dismember from us; but none but those, of whom now they begin to be ashamed. The judgment of God so following their design, that the persons which then they prevailed upon, are now a stink, and reproach to religion. Neither were these spirits content with that discord they did sow among us, but they proceeded to seize upon others. But to pass these. The wild, and unsound positions they have urged to maintain their practice, would be too large here to insert. Now, Sir, to settle the brethren, the brethren of our community, and to prevent such disorders among others, was the cause of my publishing my papers: and considering my concern in the house of God, I could do no less than to give them warning, 'That every man might deliver his soul.'
You proceed, saying,
'It is my liberty, as well as others into whose hands it falls, to weigh what you have said in truth's balance, and if it be found too light, to reject it whether you will or no.'
Answer Do but grant me, without mocking of me, the liberty you desire to take, and God helping me, I desire no more [than] to shift for myself among you. As to your saying, that I proudly and imperiously insult, because I say they are 'babes and carnal, that attempt to break the peace and communion of churches, though upon better pretences than water.' You must know I am still of that mind, and shall be, so long as I see the effects that follow, viz. The breach of love, taking off Christians from the more weighty things of God; and to make them quarrel and have heartburnings one against another.
Where you are pleased to charge me with raging, for laying those eighteen particular crimes to the charge of such who exclude Christians from church communion, and debar them their heaven-born privileges, for the want of that, which yet God never made the wall of division between us. I say, when you can prove, That God hath made water baptism that wall, and that the stress of the after eighteen charges lie wholly and only in that; then you may, time enough, call my language such as wanteth charity: but I question though that was granted, whether your saying, I RAGE, will be justified in the day of judgment.
My great noise, as you call it, about an initiating ordinance, you say, you shall take no notice of.
1. Although you do not, I must: For if baptism be not that, but another; and if visible saints may enter into fellowship by that other, and are nowhere forbidden so to do, because they have not light into water baptism: it is of weight to be considered by me; yea, and of others too who are unprejudiced.
2. How ignorant you are of such as hold it the initiating ordinance I know not: nor how long you have been of that persuasion I know not. This I know, that men of your own party, as serious, godly, and it may be, more learned than yourself, have within less than this twelve-month urged it. Mr. D. in my hearing, did from Ro 6:1, 2 in the meeting in Lothbury affirm it: also my much esteemed Mr. D. A. did twice in a conference with me assert it.
3. But whatever you say, whether for, or against, 'tis no matter; for while you deny it be the entering ordinance, you account it the wall, bar, bolt, and door; even that which must separate between the righteous and the righteous; nay, you make want of light therein, a ground to exclude the most godly your communion, when every novice in religion shall be received into your bosom, and be of esteem with you because he hath, and from what ground God knows, submitted to water baptism.
I am glad that you conclude with me what is the initiating ordinance: but withal, give me leave to correct, as I think, one extravagant expression of yours. You say, 'It is Consent on all hands and Nothing else, that makes them members of particular churches, and not faith and baptism.' You might have stopped at, and nothing else, you need not in particular have rejected faith: your first error was bad enough: what, Nothing else but consent? What, not so much as a respect to the matter or end? Why then are not all the communities of all the highwaymen in the land, truly constituted churches of Christ; unless you can prove that they hold together, but not by consent? What? consent and nothing else? But why do You throw out Faith? why, I throw out baptism; which because you cannot as to the case in hand fetch in again, therefore out must faith go too. Your action is much like that harlot's, that stood to be judged by Solomon, who because her own child was dead, would have her neighbour's killed also (1Ki 3:26). Faith, Sir, both in the profession and confession of it, is of immediate and also absolute concern, even in the very act of the church's reception, of this or another member. Throw out faith, and there is no such thing as a Christian, neither visible nor invisible. You ought to receive no man, but upon a comfortable satisfaction to the church, that you are now receiving a believer. Faith, whether it be savingly there or no, is the great argument with the church in receiving any: we receive not men as men, but the man immediately under that supposition; He hath faith, he is a Christian. Sir, consent simply, without faith, makes no man a member of the church of God: because then would a church not cease to be a church, whoever they received among them. Yea, by this assertion you have justified the church of Rome itself, to be to this day both good, and godly, unless you can prove that they did at first, and do now receive their unbelieving members, without their own consent. The church hath no such liberty to receive men without respect to faith; yea, faith and holiness must be the essentials, or basis, upon, and for the sake of which you receive them: holiness, I say, yet not such as is circumstantial, but that which is such in the very heart of it: pray you in your next therefore word it better, lest while you slight and trample upon me, you stand before all, blame-worthy yourself.
The scriptures you speak of, I did not in my first produce to shew persons unbaptized [in water] might hold communion with the church, though I am fully convinced they may, but to shew, that knowledge of those persons, of their faith and holiness in general, ought first to be shewed to the church, before she can lawfully receive them (Ac 9:26-31; 1Co 16:10; 2Co 8:23). As to my answer to a question which you have of your's corrupted, and then abused: I tell you again, That a discovery of the faith and holiness, and a declaration of the willingness of a person to subject himself to the laws and government of Christ in his church, is a ground sufficient to receive such a member.
But you descant; Is baptism one of the laws of Christ?
Answer It is none of those laws, neither any part of them, that the church, as a church, should shew her obedience by. For albeit that baptism be given by Christ our Lord to the church, yet not for them to worship him by as a church. Shew me what church-ordinance it is; and when, or where the church, as a church, is to practise it, as one of those laws and appointments that he hath commanded his church to shew to him her obedience by. Again, That submitting to water baptism, is a sign or note, that was ever required by any of the primitive churches, of him that would hold fellowship with them; or that it infuseth such grace and holiness into those that submit thereto, as to capacitate them for such a privilege; or that they did acknowledge it a sign thereof, I find not in all the Bible.
I find not, as I told you in my first, that baptism is a sign to any, but the person that is baptized (Col 2:12; Ro 6:1-4; 1Co 15:29; Ac 2:38, 22:16). The church hath her satisfaction of the person, from better proof (1Pe 3:21).
I told you also, That baptism makes thee no member of the church, neither doth it make thee a visible saint: It giveth thee therefore, neither right to, nor being of membership at all. Why, Sir, did you not answer these things? but slip them with others, as if you were unconcerned; troubling your reader with such kind of insinuations, as must needs be unsavoury to godly ears. You make the moral law none of Christ's but Moses'; not the son's but the servant's; and tell me, because I plead for faith and holiness, according to moral duties gospelized, (they are my words) whereby we ought to judge of the fitness of members; that therefore Moses is more beholden to me than Christ.
Sir, know you not yet, that a difference is to be put betwixt those rules that discover the essentials of holiness, and those that in themselves are not such; and that that of faith and the moral law is the one, and baptism, &c. the other. Is not love to God, abhorrence of idols, to forbear blaspheming, to honour our parents, to do no murder, to forbear theft, not to bear false witness, nor covet, &c. are not (I say) these the precepts of the Lord Jesus, because delivered by Moses? Or, are these such as may better be broken, than for want of light to forbear baptism with water? Or, doth a man while he liveth in the neglect of these, and in the mean time bustle about those you call gospel commands, most honour Christ, or best fit himself for fellowship with the saints? Need I tell you, That the faith of Christ, with the ten commandments, are as much now gospel commands as baptism; and ought to be in as much, and far more respect with the holy ones than that, or other the like.
Yea, shall I tell you, That baptism will neither admit a man into fellowship, nor keep him there, if he be a transgressor of a moral precept; and that a man who believeth in Jesus, and fulfilleth the royal law, doth more glorify God, and honour religion in the world, than he that keepeth, if there were so many, ten thousand figurative laws. As to those commands that respect God's instituted worship in a church, as a church, I have told you that baptism is none of them, and you have been driven to confess it. The church then must first look to faith, then to good living according to the ten commandments; after that she must respect those appointments of our Lord Jesus that respects her outward order and discipline, and then she walks as becomes her, sinning if she neglecteth either; sinning if she overvalueth either. But why did you not answer those tests I produced for the strengthening of my argument (Ro 14:17, 18; De 27:47; Jam 2:8-12; 1Co 9:21, 5:9-11; Gal 6:15, 16; Philippians 3; 1Ti 1:9-11; Ac 20:28-32; Ro 13:13; Jam 4:11; 1Co 5:12). Deal fairly; Answer those texts, with the argument made upon them; and when you have after a godly manner done that, you may the more boldly condemn.
You tell me, that I say,
'None ever received baptism without light therein.'
What if I did? (as I did not) but you grant it: and now I will ask you, and pray deal fairly in your answer. May a man be a visible saint without light therein? May he have a good conscience without light therein? And seeing that baptism is none of the worship that Christ instituted in his church for them to practice as a church, must he be kept dark about all other things concerning the worship of God in his church, until he receive light therein?
You have answered already, 'That they ought to be ashamed, and to repent of that abomination [their sprinkling] Before they come to have a sight of the pattern of the house of God, the goings in and the comings out thereof' (Eze 43:10, 11). But, Sir, where do you find that want of light in water baptism, or because a man hath been sprinkled, that he is to be kept dark in all other temple-institutions, till he be ashamed and repent of that? Pray produce the texts, for Ezekiel helps you nothing: he speaks only of the pattern of the house, the goings out, and comings in thereof. As for the coming in, you have already confessed, That baptism is not the entering ordinance. And as for the worship that Christ hath instituted in his church, as a church, I say, (and you also have said it) baptism is none of the forms thereof, none of the ordinances thereof, none of the laws thereof; for baptism is, as to the practice of it, that which is without the church, without the house of God. Then by your own text, if a man do repent him of his christening in his childhood, he may be received into fellowship without submitting to baptism: but I will not strain you too far.
'Is it a person's light that giveth being to a precept?'
Answer Who said it? Yet it is his light and faith about it, that can make him to do it acceptably.
You ask again,
'Suppose men plead want of light in other commands?'
Answer If they be not such, the forbearance of which, discapacitates him of membership, he may yet be received to fellowship.
'But what if a man want light in the supper?'
Answer There is more to be said in that case than in the other: for that is a part of that worship which Christ hath instituted for his church, to be conversant in as a church; presenting them as such, with their communion with their Head, and with one another as members of him.
'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread' (1Co 10:16, 17).
Wherefore this being a duty incumbent on the church, as a church; and on every member of that body as such, they are obliged in that case more closely to deal with the members, than in that wherein they are not so concerned; and with which as such, they have nothing to do. No man baptizeth by virtue of his office in the church; no man is baptized by virtue of his membership there.