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The First Letter.
YO U have often desired me to form my thoughts concerning the obligation, which every believes' in Christ is under, of submitting to the institution of baptism, in order to his being constituted a member ol the christian church, into some argument, for your consideration. You also told me the last time, I had the pleasure of your company, that is I can make it appear, that believers in Christ are not members of bis church, till thef have been baptized, it will entirely answer your objtEfion. And as I find what thoughts are ready to arise in your mind from the silence of those two worthy Gentlemen, to whom you applied; notwithstanding I look upon myself every way unequal to so weighty a debate, I have here ventured to submit an argument or two, to your perusal, till you shall receive from them some better answer to your objection. Nor do I doubt but that, if you find them good and conclusive, you will make the right use of them j and if they appear otherwise, you will let me know, wherein you apprehend them to be weak and insufficient.
I look upon John in. 5. to be a passage of scripture very full to my purpose, and shall therefore lay before you, first, what I understand by the terms therein contained ; and then my reasons, why I cannot account those christians members of the true visible church of Christ, who have never been baptized with water. In ver. 3. our Lord fays in general, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God; the meaning of which, Nicodemus seemed wholly at a loss how to understand; and therefore our Lord in ver. 5. particularly explains, what it was that he intended by being hern again, andfeting the kingdom 'of Q 2 " God, God, namely, a being born of walir and of the spirit, and entering into the kingdom of God. By being born of water, I understand a being baptized with water, the coming out of which may be the allusion to our first birth: and (his was a thing so well known bv the multitudes of disciples, viho were baptized by Christ, and his forerunner "John, that it needed no other explanation, or enlargement. And you very well know, that both ancient and modern -christian writers sometimes express the baptism of water, as well as the change wrought in the believer, by regeneration. It is in the constitutions, and by Justin Martyr called the lavcr of regeneration., and in scripture, the wasbing of regeneration, Titus iii. 5.
By being born of the spirit, I undei stand that moral change made by the ordinary influences of the spirit of God, thro' which every believer ought to pass, before he enters into the visible church of Christ; and which is expressed by his prosessing repentance for sins that are past, and a holy resolution to walk in newness of life for the future; no longer to live unto himself according to the sinful lujls and desires of theflesh, and of the mind, but unto Christ Jesus, walking even as he walked, 2 Cor. v. 15. Eph. ii. 3. Agreeable to this, the baptism of John is stiled the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and them therefore, who came to be baptized of him, he exhorted to bring forth fruits meetfor repentance, Mat. iii. I. 9. 11. Mark. i. 4. Luke iii. 3, 8. And as this is the chief and principal part of the new birth, so our Lord in th« sixth and eighth verses more particularly describes the nature and spirituality of it, by an apt similitude.
By entering into the kingdom of God, I understand a being received into the visible church of Christ, who is our king and lawgiver, by the appointment of God, Isa. ix. 6, 7. The government Jha 11 be upon his slioulder; and he fays himself, Matt, xxviii. 18. All power is given untome, in heaven and in earth. For to suppose that by the. kingdom of God is meant the kingdom of glory, or everlasting lise, would be excluding every unbaptized person from thence. But as I am very far from doing this, so I am persuaded, that our Lord never intended the members of his church should entertain any such uncharitable thoughts of others: and therefore I believe, that cannot be the meaning of this phrase, which in many places of scripture must be understood of the church of Christ, as Matt. xviii. 4. and xix. 24. and xxi. 31. and xxiii. 13. Mark
xii. 34. xii. 34. Lukeix. 62. and xvi. 16. Colojs. i. 13. and iv. II. 1 Thejs. ii. 12, &c.
Nor can our Lord's assertion, ver. 3. and his own explanation of it, ver. 5, Except a man be born again of water, and of the spirit, be understood only in some mystical sense; because such an explanation would have left Nicodemus full as ignorant, and as much in the dark, how to understand him, as he was before: but on the contrary, they are spoken of in ver. 5. as two things really distinct, and yet closely accompanying each other in every one,who enters into the visible church of Christ. Nor can the words be understood of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Ghost; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified, John vii. 39. And therefore it is not at all likely, that our Lord would discourse to Nicodemus about a thing, of which he could not possibly have any knowledge or understanding, and which was not in his power to obtain. But our Lord spake and tejlified to bun, that which was both known and seen, ver. II. which is literally true of the moral change, and the administration of holy baptism; and therefore he said unto him, ver. 7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. As much as if he had said, it is not coming to me, or conversing with me by night, Nicodemus, nor yet believing my miracles, and consessing that I am a teacher come from God, which will make you a member of my church. In order to that, you must be baptized, and undergo a moral change in the spirit and temper of your mind. After this, he upbraids him for his dulness and ignorance, ver. 10; and ver. II. he blames him for not receiving his witness, and then adds, ver. 12. If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, that is, if you do not believe and obey me in those things, which relate only to the constitution of my church here upon the earth, and without which neither you Nicodemus, nor any man else, can enter into, or become a member thereof: how can I expect that you will believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? things relating to my own incarnation, that supernatural change, which I myself have passed thro', "John i. 14. 2 Cor, xv. 47. or of that change, which will take place upon my true disciples, in the resurrection from the dead, when they shall be made partakers in the glories of another, future, and better kingdom with the church triumphant; or if I should deliver to you, without such easy comparisons, as the
blowing blowing of the wind, and the birth of a man, the more sublime parts of my heavenly doctrine. Anil to ffiew the necessity and advantage of an honest mind to prepare men for the reception of the truth, he fays. But he that doth the truth, totntth to the light, that hit deeds may be made manifejl, that they art wrought in God, ver. 21.
Having thus prepared my way, I now proceed to an argument or two, which I hope may be of some use towards removing that, which hath hitherto kept you from being obedient to the positive institution of baptism, which is the entrance into the fold, or visible church of Christ. And, if our Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed the baptism of water, when accompanied with rf»e moral change, as the only way, for believers in him to be made members of his visible church; and hath expressly declared, that except a man be horn of water, or is baptized, he cannot enter into, or become a member of his church; it then follows, that no man, who hath not been planted into the church of Christ by baptism, ought to look upon himself as a member thereof; unless he can (hew, that Christ allows of some other way, for such believers to be made members of his church here on earth. But if our Lord does any where allow, that believers in him may be planted into, or accounted members of his visible church, tho' they never were baptized ;. then the place, where Christ doth allow it, is to be found, and baptism is not the only way by which believers in him may be planted together in a church state; and our Lord could not have said, that Except a man be born of water, that is baptized, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, or visible church of Christ.
Again, If Christ hath appointed no other ordinance than that of baptism, for the admission of believers into his visible church, then a believer's partaking at the holy communion, without ever having been baptized, cannot constitute him a member of Christ's visible church. The Lord'* supper in its institution was not designed to initiate believers into the church of Christ, but, on the contrary, it appears to have been instituted asa standing sign of that faith, into which they were baptized; and as a means of preserving them in the christian practice, and conlttiuently, in the enjoyment of the blessings and privileges of the christian church bestowed by Christ upon those, who had before been constituted members of his