Quaker Baptism

[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume II.]

Quakers reject Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—Much censured for it—Indulgence solicited for them on account of the difficulties connected with these subjects—Christian Religion spiritual—Jewish types to be abolished—Different meanings of the word “Baptise”—Disputes concerning the mode of Baptism—Concerning also the nature and constitution of the Supper—Concerning also the time and manner of its celebration --This indulgence also proper, because the Quakers give it to others, who differ from them as a body on the subject of Religion.

The Quakers, among other particularities, reject the application of water-baptism, and the administration of the Sacrament of the Supper, as Christian rites.

These ordinances have been considered by many as so essentially interwoven with Christianity, that the Quakers, by rejecting the use of them, have been denied to be Christians.

But whatever may be the difference of opinion between the world and the Quakers, upon these subjects, great indulgence is due to the latter on this occasion. People have received the ordinances in question from their ancestors. They have been brought up to the use of them. They have seen them sanctioned by the world. Finding their authority disputed by a body of men, who are insignificant as to numbers, when compared with others, they have let loose their censure upon them, and this without any inquiry concerning the grounds of their dissent. They know perhaps nothing of the obstinate contentious; nothing of the difficulties which have occurred; and nothing of those which may still be started on these subjects. I shall state therefore a few considerations by way of preface, during which the reader will see, that objections both fair and forcible may be raised by the best disposed Christians, on the other side of the question; that the path is not so plain and easy as he may have imagined it to be; and that if the Quakers have taken a road different from himself on this occasion, they are entitled to a fair hearing of all they have to say in their defence, and to expect the same candour and indulgence which he himself would have claimed, if, with the best intentions, he had not been able to come to the same conclusion, on any given point of importance, as had been adopted by others.

Let me then ask, in the first place, what is the great characteristic of the religion we profess?

If we look to divines for an answer to this question, we may easily obtain it. We shall find some of them in their sermons speaking of circumcision, baptismal washings and purifications, new moons, feasts of the passover and unleavened bread, sacrifices, and other rites. We shall find them dwelling on these as constituent parts of the religion of the Jews. We shall find them immediately passing from thence to the religion of Jesus Christ. Here all is considered by them to be spiritual.  Devotion of the heart is insisted upon as that alone which is acceptable to God. If God is to be worshipped, it is laid down as a position, that he is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. We shall find them also, in other of their sermons, but particularly in those preached after the reformation, stating the advantages obtained by that event. The Roman Catholic system is here considered by them to be as ceremonial as that of the Jews. The Protestant is held out as of a more spiritual nature, and as more congenial therefore with the spirit of the gospel. But what is this but a confession, in each case, that in proportion as men give up ceremonies and become spiritual in their worship, their religion is the best, or that spirituality is the grand characteristic of the religion of Jesus Christ? Now there immediately arises a presumption, if spirituality of feeling had been intended as the characteristic of any religion, that no ceremonious ordinances would have been introduced into it.

If, again, I were to make an assertion to divines, that Jesus Christ came to put an end to the ceremonial parts of the Jewish law, and to the types and shadows belonging to the Jewish dispensation, they would not deny it. But baptism and the supper were both of them outward Jewish ceremonies, connected with the Jewish religion. They were both of them types and shadows, of which the antetypes and substances had been realized at the death of Christ. And therefore a presumption arises again, that these were not intended to be continued.

And that they were not intended to be continued, may be presumed from another consideration. For what was baptism to any but a Jew? What could a Gentile have understood by it? What notion could he have formed, by means of it, of the necessity of the baptism of Christ? Unacquainted with purifications by water as symbols of purification of heart, he could never have entered, like a Jew, into the spiritual life of such an ordinance. And similar observations may be made with respect to the Passover-Supper. A Gentile could have known nothing, like a Jew, of the meaning of this ceremony. He could never have seen in the Paschal Lamb any type of Christ, or in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, any type of his own deliverance from sin, so clearly or so feelingly as if the facts and customs had related to his own history, or as if he had been trained to the connexion by a long series of prophecies. In short, the passover could have had but little meaning to him.

From these circumstances, therefore, there would be reason to conclude, that these ceremonies were not to be continued, at least to any but Jews; because they were not fitted to the knowledge, the genius, or the condition of the Gentile world.

But, independently of these difficulties, which arise from a general view of these ordinances as annexed to a religion which is confessed to be spiritual, others arise from a particular view of each. On the subject of baptism, there is ground for argument, as to the meaning of the word “baptize.” This word, in consequence of its representation of a watery ceremony, is usually connected with water in our minds. But it may also, very consistently, be connected even with fire. Its general meaning is to purify. In this sense many understand it. And those who do, and who apply it to the great command of Jesus to his disciples, think they give a better interpretation of it, than those who connect it with water. For they think it more reasonable that the Apostles should have been enjoined to go into all nations, and to endeavour to purify the hearts of individuals by the spirit and power of their preaching, from the dross of Heathen notions, and to lead them to spirituality of mind by the inculcation of Gospel principles, than to dip them under water, as an essential part of their new religion.

But on a supposition that the word baptize should signify to immerse, and not to purify, another difficulty occurs; for, if it was thought proper or necessary that persons should be initiated into Christianity by water-baptism, in order to distinguish their new state from that of the Jews or Heathens, who then surrounded them, it seems unnecessary for the children of Christian parents, who were born in a Christian community, and whose ancestors for centuries have professed the Christian name.

Nor is it to be considered as any other than a difficulty that the Christian world have known so little about water-baptism, that they have been divided as to the right manner of performing it. The eastern and western churches differed early upon this point, and Christians continue to differ upon it to the present day; some thinking that none but adults; others, that none but infants should be baptised: some, that the faces only of the baptized should be sprinkled with water; others, that their bodies should be immersed.

On the subject of the sacrament of supper, similar difficulties have occurred.

Jesus Christ unquestionably permitted his disciples to meet together in remembrance of their last supper with him. But it is not clear, that this was any other than a permission to those who were present, and who had known and loved him. The disciples were not ordered to go into all nations, and to enjoin it to their converts to observe the same ceremony. Neither did the Apostles leave any command by which it was enjoined as an ordinance of the Christian church.

Another difficulty which has arisen on the subject of the supper, is, that Christians seem so little to have understood the nature of it, or in what it consisted, that they have had, in different ages, different views, and encouraged different doctrines concerning it. One has placed it in one thing, and another in another. Most of them, again, have attempted in their explanation of it, to blend the enjoyment of the spiritual essence with that of the corporeal substance of the body and blood of Christ, and thus to unite a spiritual with a ceremonial exercise of religion. Grasping, therefore, at things apparently irreconcilable, they have conceived the strangest notions; and, by giving these to the world, they have only afforded fuel for contention among themselves and others.

In the time of the Apostles, it was the custom of converted persons, grounded on the circumstances that passed at the supper of the passover, to meet in religious communion. They used, on these occasions, to break their bread, and take their refreshment and converse together. The object of these meetings was to imitate the last friendly supper of Jesus with his disciples, to bear a public memorial of his sufferings and his death, and to promote their love for one another. But this custom was nothing more, as far as evidence can be had, than that of a brotherly breaking of bread together. It was no sacramental eating.  Neither was the body of Jesus supposed to be enjoyed, nor the spiritual enjoyment, of it to consist in the partaking of this outward feast.

In process of time, after the days of the Apostles, when this simple custom had declined, we find another meeting of Christians, in imitation of that at the passover supper, at which both bread and wine were introduced. This different commemoration of the same event had a new name given to it; for it was distinguished from the other by the name of Eucharist.

Alexander, the seventh bishop of Rome, who introduced holy water both into houses and churches for spiritual purposes, made some alterations in the ingredients of the Eucharist, by mixing water with the wine, and by substituting unleavened for common bread.

In the time of Irenaeus and Justin the Martyr, we find an account of the Eucharist as it was then thought of and celebrated. Great stress was then laid upon the bread and wine as a holy and sacramental repast: prayers were made that the Holy Ghost would descend into each of these substances. It was believed that it did so descend; and that as soon as the bread and wine perceived it, the former operated virtually as the body, and the latter as the blood of Jesus Christ. From this time the bread was considered to have great virtues; and on this latter account, not only children, but sucking infants, were admitted to this sacrament.  It was also given to persons on the approach of death. And many afterwards, who had great voyages to make at sea, carried it with them to preserve them both from temporal and spiritual dangers.

In the twelfth century, another notion, a little modified from the former, prevailed on this subject; which was, that consecration by a Priest had the power of abolishing the substance of the bread, and of substituting the very body of Jesus Christ.

This was called the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

This doctrine appeared to Luther, at the dawn of the reformation, to be absurd; and he was of opinion that the sacrament consisted of the substance of Christ’s body and blood, together with the substance of the bread and wine; or, in other words, that the substance of the bread remained, but the body of Christ was inherent in it, so that both the substance of the bread and of the body and blood of Christ was there also. This was called the doctrine of Consubstantiation, in contradiction to the former.

Calvin again considered the latter opinion erroneous: he gave it out that the bread was not actually the body of Jesus Christ, nor the wine his blood; but that both his body and blood were sacramentally received by the faithful, in the use of the bread and wine. Calvin, however, confessed himself unable to explain even this his own doctrine. For he says, “if it be asked me how it is, that is, how believers sacramentally receive Christ’s body and blood? I shall not be ashamed to confess, that it is a secret too high for me to comprehend in my spirit, or explain in words.”

But independently of the difficulties which have arisen from these different notions concerning the nature and constitution of the Lord’s supper, others have arisen concerning the time and the manner of the celebration of it.

The Christian churches of the east, in the early times, justifying themselves by tradition and the custom of the passover, maintained that the fourteenth day of the month Nissan ought to be observed as the day of the celebration of this feast, because the Jews were commanded to kill the Paschal Lamb on that day. The western, on the other hand, maintained the authority of tradition and the primitive practice, that it ought to be kept on no other day than that of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Disputes again of a different complexion agitated the Christian world upon the same subject. One church contended that the leavened, another that unleavened bread only should be used upon this occasion: others contended, whether the administration of this sacrament should be by the hands of the clergy only: others, whether it should not be confined to the sick: others, whether it should be given to the young and mature promiscuously: others, whether it should be received by the communicant standing, sitting, or kneeling, or as the Apostles received it: and others, whether it should be administered in the night time as by our Saviour, or whether in the day, or whether only once, as at the passover, or whether oftener in the year.

Another difficulty, but of a different nature, has occurred with respect to the Lord’s supper. This has arisen from the circumstance, that other ceremonies were enjoined by our Saviour in terms equally positive as this, but which most Christians, notwithstanding, have thought themselves at liberty to reject. Among these the washing of feet is particularly to be noticed. This custom was of an emblematic nature. It was enjoined at the same time as that of the Lord’s supper, and on the same occasion. But it was enjoined in a more forcible and striking manner. The Sandimanians, when they rose into a society, considered the injunction for this ordinance to be so obligatory, that they dared not dispense with it; and therefore, when they determined to celebrate the supper, they determined that the washing of feet should be an ordinance of their church. Most other Christians, however, have dismissed the washing of feet from their religious observance. The reason given has principally been, that it was an eastern custom, and therefore local. To this the answer has been, that the passover, from whence the Lord’s supper is taken, was an eastern custom also, but that it was much more local. Travellers of different nations had their feet washed for them in the east. But none but those of the circumcision were admitted to the passover-supper. If, therefore, the injunction relative to the washing of feet, be equally strong with that relative to the celebration of the supper, it has been presumed, that both ought to have been retained; and, if one has been dispensed with on account of its locality, that both ought to have been discarded.

That the washing of feet was enjoined much more emphatically than the supper, we may collect from Barclay, whose observations upon it I shall transcribe on this occasion.

“But to give a farther evidence, says he, how these consequences have not any bottom from the practice of that ceremony, nor from the words following, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ let us consider another of the like nature, as it is at length expressed by John. ‘Jesus riseth from supper and laid aside his garments, and took a towel, and girded himself: after that, he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Peter said unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. So after he had washed their feet, he said, Know ye what I have done to you? If I then, your Lord and master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet: for I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.’ As to which let it be observed, continues Barclay, that John relates this passage to have been done at the same time with the other of breaking bread; both being done the night of the passover, after supper. If we regard the narration of this, and the circumstances attending it, it was done with far more solemnity, and prescribed far more punctually and particularly, than the former. It is said only, ‘as he was eating he took bread;’ so that this would seem to be but an occasional business: but here ‘he rose up, he laid by his garments, he girded himself, he poured out the water, he washed their feet, he wiped them with a towel.’ He did this to all of them; which are circumstances surely far more observable than those noted in the other.  The former was a practice common among the Jews, used by all masters of families, upon that occasion; but this, as to the manner, and person acting it, to wit, for the master to rise up, and wash the feet of his servants and disciples, was more singular and observable. In the breaking of bread and giving of wine, it is not pleaded by our adversaries, nor yet mentioned in the text, that he particularly put them into the hands of all; but breaking it, and blessing it, gave it the nearest, and so they from hand to hand. But here it is mentioned, that he washed not the feet of one or two, but of many. He saith not in the former, that if they do not eat of that bread, and drink of that wine, that they shall be prejudiced by it; but here he says expressly to Peter, that ‘if he wash him not, he hath no part with him;’ which being spoken upon Peter’s refusing to let him wash his feet, would seem to import no less, than not the continuance only, but even the necessity of this ceremony. In the former, he saith as it were passingly, ‘Do this in remembrance of me:’ but here he sitteth down again; he desires them to consider what he hath done; tells them positively ‘that as he hath done to them, so ought they to do to one another:’ and yet again he redoubles that precept, by telling them, ‘that he has given them an example, that they should do so likewise.’ If we respect the nature of the thing, it hath as much in it as either baptism or the breaking of the bread; seeing it is an outward element of a cleansing nature, applied to the outward man, by the command and the example of Christ, to signify an inward purifying. I would willingly propose this seriously to men, that will be pleased to make use of that reason and understanding that God hath given them, and not be imposed upon, nor abused by the custom or tradition of others, whether this ceremony, if we respect either the time that it was appointed in, or the circumstances wherewith it was performed, or the command enjoining the use of it, hath not as much to recommend it for a standing ordinance of the Gospel, as either water-baptism, or bread and wine, or any other of that kind? I wonder then, what reason the Papists can give, why they have not numbered it among their sacraments, except merely Voluntas Ecclesiae et Traditio Patrum, that is, the Tradition of the Fathers, and the Will of the Church.”

The reader will see by this time, that, on subjects which have given rise to such controversies as baptism and the Lord’s supper have now been described to have done, people may be readily excused, if they should entertain their own opinions about them, though these may be different from those which are generally received by the world. The difficulties indeed, which have occurred with respect to these ordinances, should make us tender of casting reproach upon others, who should differ from ourselves concerning them. For when we consider, that there is no one point connected with these ordinances, about which there has not been some dispute; that those who have engaged in these disputes, have been men of equal learning and piety; that all of them have pleaded primitive usage, in almost all cases, in behalf of their own opinions; and that these disputes are not even now, all of them, settled; who will take upon him to censure his brother either for the omission or the observance of one or the other rite? And let the Quakers, among others, find indulgence from their countrymen for their opinions on these subjects. This indulgence they have a right to claim from the consideration, that they themselves never censure others of other denominations on account of their religion. With respect to those who belong to the society, as the rejection of these ceremonies is one of the fundamentals of Quakerism, it is expected that they should be consistent with what they are considered to profess. But with respect to others, they have no unpleasant feelings towards those who observe them.  If a man believes that baptism is an essential rite of the Christian church, the Quakers would not judge him if he were to go himself, or if he were to carry his children, to receive it. And if, at the communion table, he should find his devotion to be so spiritualized, that, in the taking of the bread and wine, he really and spiritually discerned the body and blood of Christ, and was sure that his own conduct would he influenced morally by it, they would not censure him for becoming an attendant at the altar. In short, the Quakers do not condemn others for their attendances on these occasions. They only hope, that as they do not see these ordinances in the same light as others, they may escape censure, if they should refuse to admit them among themselves.





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