Spurgeon on the Reproach of Believer’s Baptism

“If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right… If we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us,—that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, et al., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Chicago: F.H. Revell, 1898), 155.

24 Responses to Spurgeon on the Reproach of Believer’s Baptism

  1. Matt Svoboda March 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Great quote.

  2. Jeff R March 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    I’m a paedobaptist, and fairly sympathetic to the believers’ baptism position, but can’t we agree that neither side really sees their position explicitly in the New Testament? Quotes like this drive me a little batty.

    • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

      I do see my position explicitly in the New Testament. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a Baptist!

      • Jeff R March 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

        Ha, I love your blog, Denny, and I’m a special student at SBTS filling in a few classes for my RTS degree, so much love to you all – but I don’t see how you can say that!

        When it comes to a child of a believer, we simply don’t have explicit commands or example in either direction in the New Testament. Paedobaptists see it as the natural fulfillment of Old Testament directives, Baptists don’t see it that way. Difference in understanding of burden of proof (not telling you anything you don’t know, I’m aware). I’m fine with that. But the Spurgeon quote is disingenuous – makes it sound like it’s ultra clear in the New Testament and paedobaptists are just inserting something foreign to Biblical thought.

        The reality is, it cuts both ways – you can’t find children of believers waiting until profession of faith to be baptized in the Bible – unless you put it there first.

        Again – I respect the Baptist position, and I’m not trying to start that argument over which is right – but quotes like this one just don’t tell the story well, I think.

        • Henry March 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

          Jeff R,

          I think many Baptists would answer that objection from a different angle. Rather than looking for narrative examples one can do even better – many didactic passages make infant baptism highly implausible.

          Consider the following selection:

          1Pe 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..”

          >> how can babies ‘appeal to God for a good conscience’?

          Gal 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

          >> how can baptised infants have ‘put on Christ’, that only applies to the regenerate.

          Rom 6:3-4 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

          >> infants have not experienced death to sin and newness of life spoken of here.

          Col 2:11 “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

          >> how can infants fit with this since they cannot exercise faith?

          1Co 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

          > it is difficult to see how unregenerate infants are baptised into the ‘one body’ that drinks ‘of one Spirit’. They are not members of Christ’s body and partakers of the Spirit until they are united to him by faith.

          There are many more verses that bear on this issue, but these are a few of the simpler arguments in defence of credobaptism.

        • Henry March 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

          Jeff R,

          I think many Baptists would answer that objection from a different angle. Rather than looking for narrative examples one can do even better – many didactic passages make infant baptism highly implausible.

          Consider the following selection:

          1Pe 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..”

          >> how can babies ‘appeal to God for a good conscience’?

          Gal 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

          >> how can baptised infants have ‘put on Christ’, that only applies to the regenerate.

          Rom 6:3-4 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

          >> infants have not experienced death to sin and newness of life spoken of here.

          Col 2:11 “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

          >> how can infants fit with this since they cannot exercise faith?

          1Co 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

          >> it is difficult to see how unregenerate infants are baptised into the ‘one body’ that drinks ‘of one Spirit’. They are not members of Christ’s body and partakers of the Spirit until they are united to him by faith.

          There are many more verses that bear on this issue, but these are a few of the simpler arguments in defence of credobaptism.

          • Jeff R March 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

            Henry, I appreciate your response, but it misses my point. Those verses can all certainly be used to defend credobaptism – but none of them give an explicit command to withhold baptism from the children of believers. I could summon a biblical case for paedobaptism, but that’s not where my problem lies.

            The problem with the Spurgeon quote is it makes it sound like Presbyterians aren’t considering the biblical data on their position. We do, and we have come to a different conclusion than you, and we think we have a pretty good argument! It’s fine if you want to disagree, and I am happy to call credobaptists brothers in the faith, but the attitude of dismissiveness in this quote (as much as I love Spurgeon) is much less than the paedobaptist case is worthy of and therefore, quotes like this simply aren’t fair in this discussion.

    • Matt Svoboda March 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      I am with Denny on this one. I think Believer’s Baptism is quite explicit and clear in the New Testament.

      There are other issues I would agree with you- like Historic Premill vs. Amillennial. Declarative quotes like this one shouldnt be applied to debates such as Eschatology, but I think it is appropriate for baptism.

      • Jeff R March 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

        Matt, where do you explicitly see the child of a believer waiting to be baptized until he professes belief and shows signs of regeneration?

        I’m not trying to dredge up the debate of infant vs. believer’s. I’m trying to say that quotes like this one are reductionistic and cloud the debate.

  3. Chris Taylor March 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Speaking of Spurgeon, here’s an interesting passage from a letter to his father. I do wish Baptists of our day would be more willing to listen Piper, Spurgeon, Bunyan, etc. on the liberty the church has to allow believers the freedom of conscience with some of these issues.

    MY DEAR FATHER, —

    You will be pleased to hear that, last Thursday night, I was admitted as a member. Oh, that I may henceforth live more for the glory of Him, by Whom I feel assured that I shall be everlastingly saved! Owing to my scruples on account of baptism, I did not sit down at the Lord’s table, and cannot in conscience do so until I am baptized. To one who does not see the necessity of baptism, it is perfectly right and proper to partake of this blessed privilege; but were I to do so, I conceive would be to tumble over the wall, since I feel persuaded it is Christ’s appointed way of professing Him. I am sure this is the only view which I have of baptism.

    • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      That’s good stuff, Chris! Where did you get that?

      • Chris Taylor March 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

        Denny, if you have access to the Works of Spurgeon via the AGES software, you’ll find it in the section that contains letters to his Father and Mother.

        Since Spurgeon’s parents were not Baptists, his joining a Baptist church was causing a stir in the family. Even so, he is gracious with those who disagree on these issues.

        A few more gems:

        But, my dear Mother, why do you not go and hear my friend, Mr. Langford? He is an open-communion Baptist, and I have no doubt will receive you without baptism.

        Again:

        Grandfather has written to me; he does not blame me for being a Baptist, but hopes I shall not be one of the tight-laced, strict-communion sort. In that, we are agreed. I certainly think we ought to forget such things in others when we come to the Lord’s table. I can, and hope I shall be charitable to unbaptized Christians, though I think they are mistaken. It is not a great matter; men will differ; we ought both to follow our own consciences, and let others do the same. I think the time would be better spent in talking upon vital godliness than in disputing about forms.

        Again:

        As Mr. Cantlow’s baptizing season will come round this month, I have humbly to beg your consent, as I will not act against your will, and should very much like to commune next month. I have no doubt of your permission. We are all one in Christ Jesus; forms and ceremonies, I trust, will not make us divided….

  4. Henry March 6, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Jeff R,

    Thanks for your response. It seems to me those verses explicitly describe the attending conditions of people who undergo baptism. Since those conditions are not possible with babies, it is pretty clear teaching that baptism is not for babies.

    Why would you want to take an approach that says we need to have a verse that says “Do not baptise babies” in order to believe credobaptism? What is insufficient about the verses cited?

    Since you are here, in the stadard paedobaptist defence ‘The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism’ edited by Greg Strawbridge I could not even find an attempt in the entire book to explain the 1 Pet 3:21 verse I cited above (only 1 one passing reference). I’d be very interested to hear you give a brief line of explanation of this verse and also the others I cited. If paedobaptism is true and we baptists need to mend our ways then here is a good opportunity to enlighten us with those verses.

    Thanks brother,

    • Jeff R March 6, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks Henry – I am not interested in the paedo/credo debate right now. Both sides have good, biblically defensible cases and I don’t have any illusions about changing your mind. That’s not my point. The point is that the Spurgeon quote makes it sound like Paedobaptists simply ignore the Bible and insert something that isn’t there. Both sides make logical conclusions based on Biblical data. No one is ignoring a specific, explicit biblical command or prohibition. That’s all I’m saying.

      • Henry March 6, 2012 at 9:47 am #

        No worries Jeff (but why are you so skeptical of being able to change my mind? I am not interested in holding the party line).

        I would add though, that other paedobaptists like Doug Wilson take a much harder line than you – he believes infant baptism is not merely another good interpretation but an actual inescapable requirement of scripture.

        Also, I don’t think anyone here has asserted that paedobaptists are ignoring an explicit command ‘Do not baptise infants’.

        Rather, I think it is fairer to characterise the charge as something more like:

        ‘Paedobaptists do not give credence to the verses that explicitly describe the attending conditions of people who undergo baptism – conditions which rule out infants as candidates.’

        Would that not be a fairer characterisation of our charge?

    • John March 7, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Henry, you’ve asked a good question, but you may not be aware that the translation of 1 Peter 3:21 is actually disputed.. While I use the ESV and believe it is the best English translation available, in it’s translation it adopts only one of the possibilities when it translates the Greek word eperotema with the English word “appeal.” While this is certainly a legitimate translation, many others use the word pledge– cf. for example the NIV and the Holman Christian Standard (hardly to be accused of being a paedo-baptist version!).

      When one translates the word as pledge, this raises the question of who is doing the pledging, God or the one being baptized. Most presbyterians, like myself, would argue that it is God who does the pledging in baptism, because baptism is primarily about what God does and says and not what we do and say. In other words the pledge of a good conscience toward God is God’s pledge that through the faith in Christ the one baptized has the assurance of the forgiveness of sins. This is not teaching baptismal regeneration, but rather the objective promises of God.

      If one responds, as most Baptists do, that such a pledge is completely irrelevant to an infant, how do you answer the fact that in Romans 4:11 circumcision is called a seal of the righteousness of faith. God commanded that seal to be given to 8 day old infants. A seal of the righteousness of faith is really identical to a pledge by God of a good conscience. In light of the previous statement in 1 Peter that “baptism does now save you,” it actually makes far more sense to take the word as God’s pledge rather than ours, because ultimately, of course, it is God who saves, and baptism must point to God’s work.

      For further discussion of this and other issues on baptism, John Fesko, has a major work on baptism from a Presbyterian perspective that I would commend to all of you Baptists. I’ve read most of the literature on both sides of this issue– Beasley-Murrary, D. Kingdon, Malone, the recent book by Schreiner, et al, as well as the Presbyerian/Reformed literature, but I often wonder how many Baptists are even aware of the strong case we Reformed folks have. Many of the Baptist responses on blogs such as this, frankly, strike me as fairly superficial, including the one above by Spurgeon who is otherwise clearly one of the “good guys” in my opinion. I respect serious Baptist interaction and grew up in a credo-baptist tradition, but we need to take each other seriously and not flippantly in this debate.

      • Henry March 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

        Thanks for your engagement John,

        To your first point re. translating it as “appeal” or “pledge”

        >> I think this is a bit of a red herring since it makes no difference to the Baptist case since a baby can neither make an “appeal” or a “pledge” as Schreiner points out p70-71 in “Believer’s Baptism”.

        >>As to who is making the pledge/appeal, you suggest it is God. Aside from noting that your paedobaptist friend Jason below seems to disagree with you, the text says the pledge/appeal is ‘to God’. In addition, I would simply respond as you indicate – this is irrelevant to infants since they do not exercise faith. Baptism only “saves” those who exercise faith – not infants.

        Secondly, regarding Romans 4:11, the Schreiner book you refer to actually deals with this exact objection on p 86-87:

        “The fundamental flaw in this argument is that Paul does not speak of circumcision in general as a seal here. Rather, he argues that circumcision is the seal of Abraham’s righteousness by faith. The text does not teach that circumcision in general is a seal, so that it functions as a defense of applying baptism before faith.”

        Schreiner also points out that Abraham believed and was right with God before he was circumcised. The sign of circumcision served as “a seal, ratification, or authentication of a faith and righteousness Abraham already had.

        He concludes:

        “How such an argument supports infant baptism is mystifying since faith precedes circumcision, it does not follow it.”

        I concur. The more debates I have with paedobaptists the more mystified I become as to why it is believed. I sometimes wonder if it is more the pull of the Grand Reformed Tradition than the actual words of scripture.

      • Don Johnson March 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

        Circumcision is called a seal of the righteousness of Abraham, which was a conscious act.

        • Chris Taylor March 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

          A Conscious Act: Agreed, the eight-day-old baby boy was very aware that something was going on down there.

      • Jeff R March 8, 2012 at 10:21 am #

        “I respect serious Baptist interaction and grew up in a credo-baptist tradition, but we need to take each other seriously and not flippantly in this debate.”

        That’s all I was trying to get at. The quote from Spurgeon comes off as flippant, as much as we all love him and appreciate him. Thanks John.

  5. Don Johnson March 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    I am a credobaptist. I think someone can be a believer without being baptized. See Acts 19. Given that, I would not want to close any communion service to just those baptized in water as a believer. As far as I can tell, any filters involved on whether to participate in communion are up to the individual. Of course, if I find myself in a situation where the group or church I am in specifies some other criteria, then I would do my best to abide by their rules and not be disruptive in any way, in other words, I would submit to their request that I decline to take communion with them. But I would find it very ironic as communion as I read it was intended to show the unity of believers, rather than the disunity.

  6. Jason March 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Dear brothers,

    As a paedobaptist, I find this discussion interesting. I agree with Jeff’s point above. I also would like to speak to two things:

    First, I believe that Henry has greatly misunderstood 1 Pet. 3:2. The “appeal” of which Peter speaks is not that of the baptized person, but of baptism itself! The word for “appeal” (eperotema) is a noun that carries the meaning of a ‘request’ or ‘plea.’ Baptism is a plea to God on behalf of the individual – an objective (not subjective) sign that reminds God (as it were) to be gracious to them.

    Second, I respectfully suggest that the NT does indeed have explicit proof of children of believers being baptized by virtue of their parent’s faith: Acts 16:33. Before writing me off completely, we must define “house” or “household” (oikia) according to the NT. I suggest that Paul has clearly done so in 1 Timothy 3:4. There “household” (oikos) is virtually equated with “children” (teknon). This, of course is nothing new. The apostles simply followed the OT understanding of the word “house” (bayit). (Ex. 19:3; Gen. 7:1).

    One more thing: In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter tells us that Baptism “corresponds” to the paradigm set forth in the Genesis narrative. In the Genesis paradigm, God shows His covenant faithfulness to Noah’s children because of Noah’s faith. The word “corresponds” is antitypos, which speaks of the Noahic salvation of a household by virtue of covenant grace as the paradigm by which we understand the covenant sign of baptism.

    Thanks for considering these things.

  7. Henry March 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    if you take 1Pet3:21 that way, then in what sense does baptism now ‘save you’? I don’t see how the (non-personal?) “appeal” of the baptismal water ‘saves’ anyone. And who/what is making this appeal? The water?

    If, however, the appeal is that of the individual for a good conscience i.e. faith/repentance, then it makes sense – we are saved by faith.

    Regarding households, there is a big difference between children and infants. Children can exercise faith, infants can’t. Consider the actual evidence from the 3 household baptism texts:

    household of Lydia, Acts 16:15
    household of the Philippian jailer, Acts 16:30–33
    household of Stephanus, 1 Corinthians 1:16

    No mention is made of infants in any of these 3 households, and in the case of the Philippian jailer, Luke says explicitly, “they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house” and that they “rejoiced” (Acts 16:32, 34), implying that the household who were baptized were old enough to understand the Word.

    So in the one instance of household baptism where it gives information on the cognitive abilities of the members, they clearly were not infants. If you look around any church you will come across multitudes of households that do not have any infants in them. Infants are not a pre-requisite for a household.

    • Don Johnson March 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

      1Co 16:15 Now I urge you, brothers–you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints–
      1Co 16:16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.

      The household of Stephanus is also an example that is contra paedobaptism, as an infant cannot devote themselves to serving anyone, but rather are served lest they perish.

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